FEMA: In or Out? – Office of the Inspector General


“Since the end of World War II, Congress and Presidents have debated, formulated, and revised administrative responsibilities for emergency management.” Some of the important questions that have been the subject of debate over the past 60 years, and that are particularly relevant today in the “FEMA In or Out” debate, include:

• What the jurisdictional boundaries of the agency charged  with emergency management should be;
• How responsibility for new or emerging threats should be assigned;
• Whether it is necessary (or advisable) to distinguish between natural and manmade threats;
• What is meant by “all-hazards,” and what elements need to be present in an agency with an all-hazards mission;
• What the relationship between crisis management and consequence management should be; and
• What the relationships among the federal, state and local governments should be during a disaster, and whether the relationships should change in the face of a catastrophe.

On December 17, 2008, Congressman James L. Oberstar, Chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, reopened the debate by submitting a memorandum to President-elect Barack H. Obama, recommending that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) “be re-instated as an independent, cabinet-level agency reporting directly to the President.”

Two days later, Congressman Bennie G. Thompson, Chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, recommended the opposite–that FEMA remain a part of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), warning that “FEMA removal from DHS would likely result in the hamstringing of ederal grants, preparedness, and efforts to coordinate with State and local emergency managers.  It would also likely undermine our ability to mount an effective response to disasters.  Instead, our efforts must be focused on providing FEMA with needed resources and the organizational structure to perform successfully from within the DHS.”

In the past few months, as the federal government prepared for the transition to a new administration, others also began to weigh in on whether FEMA should be a part of DHS or whether it should be pulled out and made a stand-alone agency.  The question is not new.  FEMA’s inclusion in DHS has been the subject of intense debate in Congress, including during consideration of both the legislation that created the department, the Homeland Security Act of 2002 (P.L. 107-296), and the legislation passed in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the Post-Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act of 2006, (P.L. 109-295, Title VI – National Emergency Management, of the Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act of 2007, hereinafter Post-Katrina Reform Act). In both instances, after much consideration and debate, Congress voted to include FEMA in DHS.

In an effort to help focus and inform the current debate, we present in this white paper some of the important elements that should be considered when deciding FEMA’s placement in the federal government.

To real the full report, click here.