Mr. BIDEN. Mr. President, earlier this week, I voted with a bipartisan majority of Senators to strengthen FEMA while leaving it in the Department of Homeland Security. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the woeful response of the Federal Emergency Management Administration, I was prepared to remove FEMA from the Department of Homeland Security. At the time, it was clear that FEMA had been stripped of necessary resources and leadership, and that, as a result of these choices, it had failed the citizens of the gulf coast.
I changed my mind and voted to strengthen FEMA for three important reasons. First, the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee conducted extensive hearings and oversight into the problems that led to the catastrophe of Katrina and how to fix this systemic failure. They conducted a 7-month investigation, including 23 hearings, heard testimony from 85 witnesses, interviewed 325 individuals, and reviewed 838,000 documents. They obviously did their homework.
Second, as a result of this exhaustive research, they made substantive proposals to strengthen the role of FEMA within the Department of Homeland Security. These changes will provide new statutory protections to ensure that the Administrator had direct access to the President, that it restores authorities to work directly with State and local agencies, and that it strengthens regional authorities by creating teams to foster cooperation and joint training for local emergency managers and first responders.
The final, and most important, reason that I decided to vote to strengthen FEMA as a component of the Department of Homeland Security is because of the position of local law enforcement and first responders. The bottom line is that I have spent my career working with the Fraternal Order of Police, the National Sheriffs Association, the National Association of Police Organizations, the National Troopers Coalition, the International Association of Fire Chiefs, the International Association of Fire Fighters, the Major Cities Chief, and local first responders. I strongly value the opinions of these individuals, and if they believe that this is the right approach to help them in their efforts to save lives, I am willing to give it a shot.
I hope that the changes voted for by the vast majority of Senators earlier this week will return FEMA to its vaunted status of the 1990s. The American people deserve no less.