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Public Statements

Department of Defense Appropriations Act - Continued

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. LEE. Mr. President, it is important that we begin the long overdue process of reforming the way the Federal Government responds to catastrophic disasters.

Too often Federal disaster relief has been reactive, bureaucratic, arbitrary, and billions of dollars are spent. Sometimes that happens with little or no accountability. Resources go unused, goals are not met, and redtape delays recovery. In the end, it seems Washington focuses sometimes solely on the price tag rather than on the people we are trying to help.

The current model assumes that politicians and bureaucrats in Washington are best suited to decide where, when, and how best to allocate resources during an emergency, but common sense and decades of experience tell us otherwise. It is the people on the ground--local officials and emergency responders, of course, but also individuals, families, and voluntary organizations--who are best equipped to help communities respond and recover from disasters.

As I looked into these issues, it became clear to me that even as the Federal Government has distributed billions for recovery with the right hand, regulations and bureaucracy have choked the recovery process with the left hand. Our recovery policy needs to be both more flexible and more consistent. Flood victims on the east coast deal with the same issues as flood victims in the gulf. Yet they are often faced with different rules and requirements. Federal policy should be clarified so that local officials and private citizens understand the process before a disaster occurs rather than having to deal with it and figure it out after the fact.

My amendment would create permanent, substantive regulatory reforms to assist victims of all disasters. It would create no new Federal program or taxpayer burden. It would instead remove redtape and provide temporary but immediate regulatory relief for disaster victims and relief volunteers. It would make it easier for a family to access savings to begin immediate recovery. It would temporarily waive certain regulatory burdens for people providing essential services after a disaster. It would expedite shipping to ensure we can get critical materials to areas affected by a disaster. Most importantly, my amendment would make these reforms automatic so that communities could begin rebuilding immediately and without having to wait for Washington, DC, to act. These are important and I believe overdue reforms, and they represent a good first step toward improving our approach to disaster relief.

I am pleased with the positive response this proposal has received so far, although I understand that some of my colleagues have concerns that a few of these substantive changes merit additional discussion and consideration.

I believe these reforms ought to be permanent fixtures of Federal emergency response policy, and ideally they should be part of a more comprehensive package to overhaul how we respond to Federal disasters.

I have spoken with my good friend Senator Hatch, the ranking member of the Finance Committee--the committee in which many of these reforms will and should properly be debated. He has expressed an interest in working with me on these reforms in the new Congress.

I look forward to and encourage all of my colleagues to join me in a serious and meaningful dialog about these critical issues.


Mr. President, with that understanding, I withdraw my amendment because I am confident that a broader discussion will be good for the country and will result in reforms that will eliminate waste, facilitate quicker recovery, and deliver assistance to Americans most severely affected by disasters.


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