King, Thompson, Reichert, Pascrell, McCaul, Etheridge announce Katrina legislation
Committee on Homeland Security to mandate substantial FEMA reforms
Washington, D.C.Today, six prominent members of the U.S. House Committee on Homeland Security announced that they have drafted legislation that will address the national emergency response problems exposed by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita last year. The legislation will mandate specific and substantial changes within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), especially within the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
The Members making the announcement were Chairman Peter T. King (R-NY), Ranking Member Bennie Thompson (D-MS), Reps. Dave Reichert (R-WA) and Bill Pascrell (D-NJ), Chairman and Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Emergency Preparedness, Science, and Technology, and Reps. Michael McCaul (R-TX) and Bob Etheridge (D-NC), Chairman and Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Investigations.
"We are making this legislation our top priority," Chairman King said. "With another hurricane season just around the corner, the time to act is now. FEMA must be equipped with the proper resources, communications, and leadership to handle a worst case scenario and provide a rapid, coordinated, and effective response. That is exactly what this legislation will accomplish."
"Whether we call the agency charged with emergency preparedness and response FEMA or something else, the Senate's report echoes our urgent call to strengthen disaster preparedness and response WITHIN the Department," Ranking Member Thompson said. "After seeing the destruction of last year's hurricanes and daily dialogue with our nation's first responders and emergency managers, we have come up with a real remedy to heal this ailing agency.
Our legislation would equip the Department with the right tools, resources, guidance and leadership it needs to deal with any disaster our country may face."
"As someone who has spent more than 30 years as a first responder, I know that the success of disaster response hinges on how well it is executed at the local level," Reichert said. "Emergency management at the Federal level will be greatly enhanced by adopting a bottom-up strategy that helps local governments be more effective. Our legislation emphasizes the need to plan, train, and exercise in a coordinated manner with State, local, and tribal governments. By doing so, we will truly establish a national emergency management system."
"After viewing the carnage left in the wake of last year's hurricane season, and working closely with the first responders who managed the chaos, I feel strongly that this legislation is best way to further prepare America for a large scale emergency incident," Pascrell said. "We drafted this bipartisan legislation from the ground up and relied heavily on lessons learned during the preparedness and response lapses experienced last year. One very critical provision requires that the preparedness leader have significant emergency management experience, and be elevated to a position with direct access to the President. Qualified leadership and direct access to the President are critical to a rapid, thorough national emergency response."
"As someone who has seen first-hand the devastation that a Katrina or Rita-strength hurricane can cause, I understand the great importance of ensuring an effective federal response; and this is exactly what this bill will do," McCaul said. "This vital legislation puts FEMA on the ground where the crisis is occurring instead of the agency trying to manage the catastrophe from Washington; and with the fraud prevention measures included in this legislation Americans impacted by a Katrina-like event won't become victims of crimes on top of being victims of mother nature or a man-made crisis. We've learned from our mistakes in the past and this bill will help make sure those mistakes are not repeated."
"In North Carolina we know firsthand the critical role FEMA must play in saving lives and protecting property from devastating hurricanes," Etheridge said. "Unfortunately, the federal response to Hurricane Katrina exposed dangerous incompetence at FEMA. Congress must fulfill its constitutional oversight duties now to correct these deficiencies and strengthen FEMA as another hurricane season rapidly approaches."
The legislation, as drafted, includes a number of reforms to enhance the performance of FEMA and DHS, including: elevating, strengthening, and better integrating FEMA into DHS, providing FEMA with greatly enhanced resources; elevating the Director of FEMA to Undersecretary for Emergency Preparedness, and mandating that he/she report directly to the President in a time of crisis; requiring that the Undersecretary be an individual who possesses a demonstrated ability in and knowledge of emergency management and incident response; and establishing DHS Regional Offices and Regional Directors to more effectively coordinate with State and local officials, emergency response providers, and emergency response support providers, such as utilities, public health, public works, and transportation personnel.
"Since Hurricanes Katrina and Rita struck last year, Members of our Committee have met repeatedly with the local and state-level first responders and emergency coordinators, people who were on the ground and understand where our response fell short and what needs to be done to correct it," King said. "And I'm proud to say that their inputand the suggestions of first responders like them all across the countryplayed a major role in the substance of this legislation. I look forward to working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to pass this importance piece of legislation as quickly as possible."