The report, titled "Redirecting FEMA Toward Success," found that the agency was most successful when led by experienced emergency preparedness managers, had a direct line to the president and had a stated operational strategy for fulfilling its mission.
"Last year's hurricanes should serve as a wake-up call that the government's emergency preparedness and response efforts should not be led by an inexperienced political appointee. Nor should that leader be hampered by bureaucracy and inattentive superiors," said Thompson. "With the next hurricane season only a few months away and terrorists threatening to strike within our borders, the Department of Homeland Security must act immediately to remedy these gaps. If it will not, then Congress must step in."
The FEMA headquarters union of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) is pressuring Congress to re-establish FEMA as a separate agency. The union local made the recommendation in response to Senate testimony by DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff and the release of a House Republican report that criticizes the secretary for delays and misjudgments following the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
"Successful emergency management relies upon experience and expertise. Over the past 4 years, the value of expertise and experience has been downgraded and dismissed by top FEMA officials. FEMA is hemorrhaging capable staff who served the American people for years. In some instances vacancies have not been filled, while in other cases inexperienced individuals lacking any relevant experience have been hired into critical emergency management roles," said Leo Bosner, president of AFGE Local 4060.
Calling for the restoration of FEMA's emergency management capabilities, the AFGE FEMA headquarters union recommends the following:
- Re-establish a value for expertise and experience with respect to emergency management by involving veteran employees in the development of retooling plans and other agency initiatives.
- Appoint top emergency management experts to leadership positions.
- Fill vacancies with individuals who have emergency management experience or expertise.
- Reinstitute an emergency management-training program.
- Revamp the National Response Plan to make it more practical and flexible by drawing on the knowledge of experienced FEMA employees, not politically connected contractors, to write the plan.
- Empower employees by granting them flexibility with respect to emergency preparation and response.
- Fully staff three emergency support teams.
- Allow FEMA the autonomy to fulfill its mission.
"Despite significant staff attrition and brain drain, the reality is that FEMA employees fulfilled their responsibilities to the American people in the days leading up to and following Hurricane Katrina," said AFGE National President John Gage. "They collected information and sent reports to the leadership of FEMA and DHS. The problem is that the federal leaders, who had the authority to take action that would have minimized suffering and loss of life, did not listen."