Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Don’t Pick on FEMA

FEMA Director R. David Paulison says it’s not easy being FEMA. You think you know. But you have no idea:

I believe many Americans have little awareness of:

- FEMA’s size, which is about the size of many high schools—or 2500 full time employees;
- FEMA’s mission, which is to help America mitigate against, prepare for, respond to, and recover from disasters;
- FEMA’s reliance upon partners—be it the States, the Department of Defense, or others in the federal, state or private sector—to accomplish nearly all that we do, and
- Citizens’ personal roles and responsibilities, along with state and local jurisdictions, in the emergency management process.

Now, part of this is our fault. We in FEMA simply haven’t done as good a job as we should explaining our roles and responsibilities, managing expectations and communicating the urgent need for personal preparedness. Although FEMA can—and will do a better job of framing our respective roles and responsibilities within an emergency management context, I want to make it crystal clear that every American has a part to play in achieving national preparedness.
You see, FEMA is the little guy. They just didn’t do a good job letting you know about how little they were. They’re like a high school… a high school that can be allocated millions of dollars by Congress and can “rely on” the Department of Defense to accomplish its mission. Didn’t your high school have those kinds of resources? (Okay, okay, maybe my alma mater did.)

Paulison gave the above speech to the National Press Club last week. He was talking about the “New FEMA.” It seems he wanted to make us aware that FEMA’s mission isn’t to actually do anything. They just “help America” do things. That way, because FEMA doesn’t actually do anything, they aren’t responsible when things aren’t done right. So who, according to Paulison, is responsible?

You are:

Any American who fails to prepare for potential disasters not only places the lives of their loved ones in jeopardy, he or she also may put the lives of first responders at risk and contribute to a more difficult response. The extent to which any one of us is victimized by disaster is determined, at least in part, by how well—or how poorly—we personally prepare ourselves and our loved ones for disaster.
Only you can prevent a failed response to a natural disaster. So be prepared.

Be prepared, because you never know when $1 billion will go to the wrong people:
The Federal Emergency Management Agency has recouped less than 1 percent of an estimated $1 billion in fraudulent or unjustified payments that it distributed after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, a new report by congressional investigators says.

At the same time, the agency continued to wrongly send out millions of dollars of new aid this year, including $17 million in rental assistance to families living rent-free in FEMA trailers, the Government Accountability Office report says.
Be prepared, because the *right* people might stop getting help and not know why:
FEMA has to restore housing assistance and pay back rent to thousands of Hurricane Katrina evacuees who had been deemed ineligible for long-term housing assistance, a federal judge ruled yesterday [Nov 29].

The judge, Richard J. Leon of Federal District Court for the District of Columbia, wrote that the agency also had to improve an appeals process that evacuees had long said was confusing, contradictory and amounted to an arbitrary denial of help.

***

The judge said that the lack of clarity deprived evacuees of their rights of due process, pointing out that the agency had conceded that thousands of families had been incorrectly ruled ineligible.
Be prepared, because FEMA may fight for their right to not give housing assistance to eligible families:
The Federal Emergency Management Agency said Tuesday that it will appeal a judge's order that the agency resume housing assistance and make retroactive payments to thousands of hurricane evacuees.

The appeal notice came just hours after lawyers for evacuees asked a federal judge in Washington to order FEMA to provide a plan for compliance with the Nov. 29 order. FEMA's notice did not specify grounds for the appeal.
Be prepared, because the director of FEMA, addressing the court ruling, might say something like this:
"No good deed goes unpunished," Paulison said, adding that FEMA helped more people than it ever has despite overwhelmed systems, huge work volumes and pressure to fight victim fraud. "We felt like we did a good job."

He added: "We have to resist the call for additional investigations unless they're based on new evidence and allegations. Rather than conduct additional studies, inquiries, analysis that look backward and tell us what we really already know, we should continue to focus on correcting the problems."
Be prepared, because FEMA’s “good deed” may keep you from coming home:
By summer, four out of five recertification requests were denied, said Heather Godwin, a lawyer with Texas RioGrande Legal Aid. Advocates and court records show that FEMA refused, against agency rules, to give aid to more than one member of a family, even if they were separated across the country; that the agency concluded erroneously that many homes were not severely damaged by the storms; and that FEMA relied on computer systems that were unable to keep track of applicants' documents and were plagued by overloaded workers' data-entry errors.

Other bureaucratic measures, designed to combat abuse, required applicants to provide written documentation of pre-storm housing payments, which was unavailable to some evacuees, or to meet inspectors even if they were living miles away.

***

Liberal analysts also cite other indicators that aid cutoffs are leading to de facto relocation decisions as poor families, unable to get back to New Orleans, begin to seek local aid where they are. In Austin, the wait list for public housing has grown from 8,200 to 10,000 families, Godwin said.
Be prepared, because your state might not be able to question how FEMA spent recovery money:
Who should pay for the federal government’s mistakes in handing out disaster aid to the wrong people? Not Louisiana, say state officials, who have gone to court to try to prevent the Federal Emergency Management Agency from collecting about $60 million from the state

The federal government has asked a judge to dismiss the lawsuit, contending that Louisiana cannot refuse to pay charges it disagrees with — even when the charges are the result of fraudulent claims — and that the state has no right to audit FEMA’s spending. A hearing on the lawsuit is scheduled for Monday in Federal District Court in Baton Rouge.
Be prepared, and heed the word of FEMA:
So, what does personal preparation mean? This means having a plan, understanding that plan, and exercising that plan; and, It also means having adequate homeowners and flood insurance to recover after disasters strike. America must continue to develop a culture of preparedness.
Yes, have a personal plan, understand that plan, and exercise that plan when the US Army Corps of Engineers comes to your town and builds a levee system “in name only.”

Yes, we do need to “develop a culture of preparedness” now that we know our government is not prepared.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

dear fema please suck on the rotting corpse of all of my elderly neighbors who have passed away prematurely in the last fifteen months because of your high schoolness.

they surely would have not died premature deaths if they would have known of your hardships.

they would have been able to finish their lives on my block in gentilly if they had only known of your hardships.

Anonymous said...

Dimwits with a forum-- that is what this blog represents.

da po' boy said...

Re: Dimwits with a forum
Please, enlighten me.

bayoustjohndavid said...

Now I know FEMA never got around to rebidding all those no-bid contracts (that was one of Paulison's first promises), they didn't have the manpower. Or was that dimwitted of me?

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't mind so much is FEMA actually did help people.

The problem is they are the problem. They seem to be actively trying not to help people.

Jean Lafitte said...

Ok, I had a disaster plan and I used it, evacuated just in time, to a pre-arranged location. And if the federal levees hadn't failed, I would have returned in a few days to a city slightly rumpled, but recovering. But I didn't prepare enough? Is that what they're saying?

Should I have worked to shore up the levees and flood walls? No, cause that's a Federal responsibility, and we're not allowed to trespass on that turf. Besides, don't the Feds always live up to their responsiblities?

What? FEMA? They didn't? I'm confused.