The Federal Emergency Management Agency needs a clearer chain of command and more efficient partnerships with state and local governments in disaster relief situations, witnesses told a House panel on Monday.
“We need not be confined to outdated systems and approaches to disaster response and recovery,” said David Maxwell, vice president of the National Emergency Management Association. “We must do a better job of leveraging all the resources available to us … including the public and the private sector.”
Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., chairwoman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee dealing with emergency management, emphasized the need to redefine catastrophic disaster and to clarify FEMA’s responsibilities in relief and recovery, particularly in relation to state and local efforts. “We must reevaluate the role of the federal government, as well as FEMA’s authority, policies and regulations that presume federal assistance is always supplemental regardless of the disaster,” she said.
FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate acknowledged the need to improve coordination within the agency and with other external organizations. “One thing I want to make clear is FEMA is not the team,” he said. “FEMA is part of the team…we obviously need to be a better partner within the federal family.”
Fugate also said FEMA often fails to match its programs with existing state and local resources, and could do a better job using the capabilities of other federal agencies, the private sector, and state and local responders.