Committee Approves Bills to Cut FEMA Waste & Strengthen Agency's Disaster Preparedness
Washington, DC – The Transportation and Infrastructure Committee today approved two bills to improve the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) management of resources and capacity to prepare for and respond to disasters.
The Committee approvedH.R. 3377, the “Disaster Response, Recovery, and Mitigation Enhancement Act of 2009,” and H.R. 1174, the “FEMA Independence Act of 2009,” by voice vote. U.S. Rep. John L. Mica (R-FL), the Committee’s Republican Leader, and U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL), the Economic Development, Public Buildings and Emergency Management Subcommittee Ranking Member, are cosponsors of both bills.
The Committee was also scheduled to consider H.R. 4016, the “Hazardous Material Transportation Safety Act of 2009,” but today’s consideration was delayed pending a Congressional hearing on the bill.
H.R. 3377, the “Disaster Response, Recovery, and Mitigation Enhancement Act of 2009”
H.R. 3377 amends the Stafford Act, which provides FEMA authority to address disasters, and includes a number of Republican initiatives, including Rep. Mica’s provisions to allow excess emergency housing trailers and other resources to be used in disasters that do not rise to the level of a national disaster declaration.
“FEMA wastes $100 million every year to store unused trailers while victims of more localized disasters sometimes find themselves without a roof over their heads,” Mica said. “Instead of throwing away millions in taxpayers’ money to park trailers in lots, we should use these assets where they are needed, or dispose of them. The bill will also allow other entities to utilize FEMA resources, such as food and ice, that the agency does not plan to use and will simply throw away.”
H.R. 3377 also incorporates the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System Act, legislation previously introduced by Rep. Diaz-Balart, which requires FEMA to modernize and implement an integrated public alert and warning system. The federal government currently relies on old phone lines and archaic computers to convey emergency alerts to citizens. This reliance on outdated technology and resulting gaps in coverage means that significant segments of the population may not receive critical updates in emergency situations.
“Development of the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System is a no-brainer – it has to happen,” said Diaz-Balart. “And I hope with this bill, it will happen now.”
The bill also includes Diaz-Balart provisions to provide incentives for statewide building codes, which can significantly help mitigate the destruction caused by future disasters.
“Building codes, as we have seen in Florida, go a long way towards savings lives and reducing the damage from disasters,” Diaz-Balart added. “We also know that mitigation saves taxpayer dollars.” Both the Congressional Budget Office and the National Institute of Building Science have determined that for every dollar invested in mitigation three dollars are saved in future disaster payments.
The bill includes key provisions recommended by U.S. Rep. Anh “Joseph” Cao (R-LA) that will help to streamline and improve FEMA recovery efforts following future disasters. Representing New Orleans, Cao has been a leader on these issues and helped break loose over a billion dollars in stalled recovery funds for Louisiana.
“The most important element of the Stafford Act is that it will help other jurisdictions going forward,” said Rep. Cao. “This bill actually applies lessons learned and fixes the recovery process through real and tangible solutions so that no one will have to go through what we in the Gulf States underwent after Hurricane Katrina. The committee leadership, both Republican and Democrat, realizes this is a nonpartisan issue, and I have been grateful and humbled by the level of cooperation my fellow members have shown in helping with this legislation.”
H.R. 1174 establishes FEMA as an independent, Cabinet-level agency in order to improve the agency’s capacity to prepare for and manage response to disasters. FEMA was placed within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) when that department was created, and the move has confused the chain of command and eroded FEMA’s authority to nimbly respond to disasters.
“Putting FEMA in DHS hasn’t worked,” said Mica. “The Department has bled FEMA dry of resources, personnel, and the authority to manage a large disaster. Elevating FEMA as an independent agency will ensure a clear and direct chain of command from the President.”
“When FEMA was included in DHS, many thought it would improve the agency’s ability to respond to disasters, but unfortunately that has not been the case,” added Diaz-Balart. “Despite the work of this committee to strengthen FEMA, it is still buried within a huge department and confusion still exists with its authority. This bill is a solution.”
The Committee also unanimously approved a resolution (H. Res. 841) by U.S. Rep. Jim Gerlach (R-PA) supporting the designation of November 29, 2009, as “Drive Safer Sunday.”
The resolution acknowledges that distracted driving is one of the main causes of highway accident fatalities, and promotes driver awareness and safety on the Sunday after Thanksgiving, the heaviest travel day of the year when 13.7 million Americans make long-distance trips.
“Raising awareness about the dangers of distracted driving can literally save lives,” said Gerlach. “This resolution is a reminder of the personal responsibility each driver accepts every time they put their key in the ignition. We can all do little things to make the roads safer and be more considerate of other motorists.”
Finally, the Committee approved resolutions to authorize various construction and lease projects under the General Services Administration’s Capital Investment and Leasing Program.