WASHINGTON, D.C. - Senator Barbara A. Mikulski (D-MD) today joined Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) at a press conference to introduce legislation to restore FEMA to Cabinet-level, independent federal agency status to ensure that it has the authority it needs to effectively manage recovery efforts for future national crises. In addition, to make sure that response efforts are conducted better in the future, Senator Mikulski is also introducing legislation to create an independent commission to investigate the handling of relief efforts.
"The people of the Gulf Coast have been doubly victimized. First by Hurricane Katrina, then by their own government," said Senator Mikulski. "Frankly, the response of the government has itself been a disaster that has cost too many lives and resulted in too many tragedies."
The proposed legislation will restore FEMA to Cabinet-level rank and establish it once again as an independent agency. The FEMA Director would report directly to the President and would have full authority to coordinate with all agencies and take whatever executive action is necessary to ensure needed resources and recovery personnel are deployed to impacted areas in an efficient and timely manner. As part of the Homeland Security Act of 2002, President Bush moved FEMA from an independent, Cabinet-level rank to a sub-agency of the Department of Homeland Security under the authority of the Secretary of Homeland Security.
The FEMA legislation will also clarify the mission of the agency to ensure that its primary focus is on preparedness, response, recovery and mitigation issues. It will also ensure that FEMA will budget for and champion key mitigation programs such as Project IMPACT that establish successful partnerships between federal, state and local government agencies. Finally, the legislation will require that FEMA retains independent control of the assets needed to prepare for and respond to significant natural disasters.
The independent Katrina Commission would be modeled after the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States convened in the wake of September 11. The Katrina Commission would be charged with providing a comprehensive and unbiased evaluation of what could and should have been done to avoid the extraordinary damage, the loss of life, the evacuation problems and the inadequate relief efforts that have exacerbated the dislocation and suffering of thousands of Americans affected by Hurricane Katrina. The Commission would bring together officials with knowledge, expertise, training and experience with natural disasters to determine how to fix our broken system of federal response to natural disasters of a cataclysmic nature.