Friday, November 2, 2012

FEMA works

During President George W. Bush’s administration, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the agency created in 1979 to lead the federal response to crises, was allowed to devolve into little more than a Pez dispenser for patronage for friends and political donors.

Hurricane Katrina left behind losses of $47 billion and the destruction of one of the world’s iconic cities in its wake while Bush called FEMA’s pathetic initial responses a “heckuva job.” 

Fortunately for the 60 million people affected by monster storm Sandy, which slammed into the East Coast this week, now FEMA works. Director Craig Fugate, picked by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano for his experience and temperament and not his political value, has rebuilt it. 

Massive crises require planning and coordination done quickly and applied over large geographic areas without regard to political boundaries or partisan loyalties. Both Republican and Democratic governors and mayors acknowledge FEMA’s invaluable role. 

The federal government has played this role in some form or another for more than 200 years. In the current environment, however, even successful government programs are under attack.

House Republican Majority Leader Eric Cantor wants massive cuts in FEMA’s budget. In a 2011 debate, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney said he “absolutely” thinks FEMA should be shut down, with disaster relief moved to the states and possibly into private hands. Both proposals are not just short-sighted, they are idiotic. Could nine or 10 states agree on who should provide what in the face of a hurricane that appeared on the radar screen four days ago? Could Disasters-R-Us rebuild San Francisco? We need FEMA, and we can afford it as long as it’s allowed to do what it’s intended to do.

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