The Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Inspector General Richard Skinner published a white paper this week that reiterates the need to keep FEMA in DHS. IG Skinner cites three reasons for keeping FEMA in DHS. First, making serious changes to the “homeland security apparatus” could put the system in haywire—jeopardizing the ability of DHS to prevent and respond to acts of terrorism. Second, a DHS-led FEMA enjoys access to synergies and resources that it did not have when it was a stand alone agency—ensuring better and faster disaster response. And third, keeping FEMA in DHS helps to avoid the stovepipes of authority that made responding to the attacks on 9/11 all the more difficult.
The report is also honest about DHS mistakes—recognizing that Hurricane Katrina was not a shining moment for DHS. But the IG emphasizes the progress that has been made to fix these problems since Katrina. Heritage Foundation’s Jena McNeill also highlights this progress in her WebMemo, Cabinet Level FEMA Not Needed. She argues DHS took the lessons it learned from Hurricane Katrina and made tremendous progress. Since this time, DHS has been “applauded for its response efforts during Hurricanes Gustav and Ike, the Midwest Floods, and the California wildfires.” She further describes how reorganization would only add bureaucracy to the response process and increase the difficulty of obtaining the necessary disaster resources in a catastrophe.
This report is not the first to emphasize why FEMA should stay in DHS. Even members of Congress, including House Homeland Security Committee chairman Bennie Thompson oppose taking FEMA out. The Bush Administration wants FEMA to stay in. Secretary Napolitano indicated her likely support for a DHS-led FEMA in her confirmation hearing. The message is clear: FEMA is working, and it’s working within DHS.