White House: Keep FEMA Where It Is

At the White House today, I asked Press Secretary Scott McClellan about the role of FEMA in the Department of Homeland Security.

Here is the exchange:

Q Thank you, Scott. When the Department of Homeland Security was created and organized shortly after 9/11, FEMA was made part of it, a lower level agency within the department, which many say was the genesis of the clash between FEMA Director Michael Brown and Secretary Chertoff. Now, yesterday, Congressman Shuster of Pennsylvania, criticized the structure, and called for FEMA being made an independent agency once again outside the Department of Homeland Security. Your reaction?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, my reaction is to point out a couple of things. First of all, when the Department of Homeland Security was created, there was a bipartisan effort that was undertaken. And there was strong bipartisan support for putting all these departments and agencies under one umbrella, where they all focused on one priority, and that is protecting the American people.

And now in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, we have undertaken a comprehensive lessons-learned review to look at things that we can do better to prepare for future response efforts. And Secretary Chertoff has already taken a number of steps to make sure that we are in position to be better prepared in the future.

And one of those initiatives he undertook was to look at FEMA and take some steps to strengthen FEMA and make it work better, and put it in a better position to respond in the future. Now, we have to keep in mind that the first responders are always going to be the state and local folks. They’re the ones who are on the front lines. And the role of the federal government is to support those efforts. But we have seen that this was a catastrophic hurricane, and in those instances where something like that happens, what do you do?

And that’s why we have taken a comprehensive look at how we move forward. And our Director of Homeland Security is going to be talking about more than a hundred recommendations that we are making to move forward on. And much — many of those we need to act on now, and move ahead on. There are some that will take a longer-term effort. But I think everybody recognized the importance of the way the Department of Homeland Security was structured when FEMA was put under it. And that remains where our support is, as well. But we also must continue to work to make sure that everything is fully integrated at the Department of Homeland Security.

Q So while you support measures for reform, none of those hundred measures you refer to include making FEMA independent again?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think we’ve expressed our view previously, and we continue to support FEMA being where it is.


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