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FEMA's Disaster

South Florida Sun-Sentinel Editorial Board
Posted September 8 2005

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ISSUE: FEMA deserves much of the blame for the bungled response to Katrina.



There's plenty of blame to go around for the horrors of New Orleans and the dismal response to Hurricane Katrina by authorities at all levels of government. But no agency deserves more blame than the one that was put in charge of the federal response: the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

FEMA has been hamstrung by a Bush administration decision to make it part of the Department of Homeland Security, where its emergency response responsibilities got lost amid the huge DHS bureaucracy, whose emphasis is on terrorism. Making matters worse, Congress cut funding for flood control and the administration canceled useful FEMA programs, including one for disaster mitigation.

FEMA's shocking inability to meet the challenges of Katrina should give impetus to a plan by U.S. Rep. Mark Foley, R-Jupiter, to introduce legislation calling for the agency to be separated from the DHS. The bill merits widespread support.

But nothing can restore FEMA's full functionality so long as the agency's incompetent director, Michael Brown, remains at the helm. Brown, a patronage appointee with no previous disaster management experience, embarrassed himself last year with his attempts to justify FEMA's waste of more than $31 million in hurricane relief given to areas not affected by a hurricane. After a South Florida Sun-Sentinel investigation exposed the waste, the newspaper called for Brown to be fired. It now repeats that call.

This year Brown embarrassed the whole country. Three days after Katrina struck, he admitted to being surprised to learn that thousands of people were suffering without food or water in New Orleans' convention center. This from the man who was supposed to be in charge of federal relief efforts.

Brown is in over his head. If FEMA is ever to become effective again, his dismissal must be the first step.



BOTTOM LINE: The agency's incompetent director, Michael Brown, should be fired.



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COLUMNISTS

Douglas C. Lyons Douglas C. Lyons
Editorial Writer

If Brown is on the `outs,' Bush has an `in'

Earl Maucker
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Stephen Goldstein
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Guillermo I. Martinez
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