Fire Engineering Training Community

Where firefighters come to talk training

FEMA’s New Test Under New Leadership:
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has been under close watch after the debacle of the response to Hurricane Katrina. In recent days, the interest has geared again to how the agency would handle new disasters under the new administration of President Osama. With the new administration, FEMA again will new head secretary. An article in the Federal Times Newspaper, asked Secretary Cheroff what he feared for FEMA under the new administration. The article posed some interesting points for consideration for the upcoming new head of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The outgoing Secretary Michael Cheroff fears that the new secretary will begin a re-organization or change to a system that was becoming somewhat “better” organized over the past 2 years.
That is not to say that DHS still has a number of problems. The integration of several departments or agencies into one functional system still plagues the post-Katrina system. Other items in the future will be dealing with a smaller budget due to the economy which was stated by the Coast Guard’s Adm. Thad Allen. In the article he stated, “The challenge for (DHS) is to create those cross-cutting integrating business processes now, no matter how painful it is.” This could not be stated better in this more missions for lower money our country is going through. These budgetary constraints are also effecting programs that have not been highly effective in there planning stages such as the biological and nuclear detectors, Project Shield, and the Homeland Security Information Network. (Calstrom, 2008)
The department under the new sectary will also deal with a department that is run by political appointees rather than management officials. Chertoff in the article stated that the department wasn’t overly reliant on appointees with 220 of the them for 6 different agencies. One of the biggest news of 2007 in emergency management was that the department was suffering from low morale and a lack of staffing at upper management. Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss.). stated that one of the major problems was the over politicization of the top rank of Department management. He stated this could lead to another terrorist attack with the gaping h*** in administration. Political appointees lead to oversight of contractors who are responsible for the failures of major projects.
The failures were apparent in the response to Hurricane Katrina which solidified that private industry was better capable of response than the federal government. In some aspects the response given by larger companies such as Wal-Mart, Home Depot, and Tide Corporation were given high marks among federal critics for their model response. The critics have asked for FEMA to model their system much the same. This highly criticized lack of response has been noted by industry leaders such as Russell Sobel, the distinguished chair of Entrepreneurial Studies and Peter T. Leeson is assistant professor of economics at West Virginia University. They have noted in many articles that FEMA is politically connected o response zones stating that a link is established between policymakers and fund distributed guarantees reelection by spending money in key political districts. (Sobel and Leeson, 2006) This was referenced again in the article Policy Review. In the review it stated that crisis is routine in politics. Each time a disaster strikes new legislation is created to correct the deficiencies that created it. (Roberts, 2006) This leads to re-organization each time which contributes to more confusion. In the article, FEMA was also criticized for not listening to local responders in Hurricane Katrina for demands for help but trying to influence a federal model of response that was not streamlined toward local needs. (Sobel and Leeson, 2006)
In conclusion, FEMA does not need another round of reorganization. It needs capable leaders that can lead from an all hazards approach of emergency management not from political view points. It has been common practice in the past to correct a poor response to disasters by changing policy within FEMA, not to correct the appointees of managing emergencies. The future of FEMA requires an administration that is not appointed or one that model closely other federal agencies like the military. Appointees should be selected that are familiar with large scale disaster functions and familiar with emergency management to deal with a streamlined scope of problems rather than the larger picture of satisfying political interests.


Calstrom, G. ( 7 December 2008) Chertoff: Stop reorganizing DHS. Retrieved 7 February 2009 from Federal Web site:

Roberts, P. (July 2006) FEMA after Katrina. Retrieved 7 February 2009 from Hoover Institution. Web Site:

Sobel, R. and Leeson, P. (19 July 2006) Flirting with Disaster: The Inherent Problems with FEMA. Retrieved 7 February 2009 from CATO Institute. Web Site:

Views: 80

Reply to This

Policy Page


The login above DOES NOT provide access to Fire Engineering magazine archives. Please go here for our archives.


Our contributors' posts are not vetted by the Fire Engineering technical board, and reflect the views and opinions of the individual authors. Anyone is welcome to participate.

For vetted content, please go to

Fire Engineering Editor in Chief Bobby Halton
We are excited to have you participate in our discussions and interactive forums. Before you begin posting, please take a moment to read our policy page. -- Bobby Halton

Be Alert for Spam
We actively monitor the community for spam, however some does slip through. Please use common sense and caution when clicking links. If you suspect you've been hit by spam, e-mail

FE Podcasts

Check out the most recent episode and schedule of

© 2022   Created by fireeng.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service