“Green” projects costing an untold amount of tax dollars are not the only federal doles that are fiscally off course. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has been responding to any and every natural disaster anywhere in the country. So much so that nearly every state and locality has trimmed its own emergency response budget. This leaves them unprepared to handle even snow storms without federal assistance and increasingly dependent on Washington, D.C.
Earlier this month, Hurricane Irene and the mini-earthquake on the East Coast focused national attention on FEMA and its fumbles—namely, the attempted federalization of routine disasters, the agency’s funding issues, and the capabilities of disaster-dealing at all levels of government.
FEMA has told more than 5,650 victims of 129 disasters, ranging from fires to tornadoes, that they have to repay the government for the $22 million they received. An added $643 million in “erroneous” disaster payments to about 160,000 families, mainly from Hurricanes Katrina and Wilma, could be asked to be given back. FEMA representatives, a story in the root.com reported, said the payments were mostly the fault of the agency. But the agency said, peacock proudly, that it has sharply cut its error rate. A FEMA disaster assistance employee can make up to $76,995, plus a per diem of $143, plus $45.75 for each travel day. Airfare also is covered when necessary. Not bad, compared with being jobless.
The East Coast earthquake was a shaker that lasted only a few seconds in Washington, D.C. Little damage resulted. But the response to it was over the top and uncoordinated. As a Heritage Foundation article put it, the “response itself created a disaster—a traffic and commuting disaster. With Hurricane Irene, the relative weakness of the hurricane … resulted in wind and rain, but nothing that was unpredictable. The weakness evident in Vermont’s capabilities and the relative powerlessness of FEMA shows why the fed-centric model needs to be abandoned,” Heritage said.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) Sept. 13 accused Republicans of delaying disaster relief by blocking a vote to add $7 billion to FEMA, which is running short after pouring more federal money into natural disasters. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AK) responded that he was “strongly oppose[d] to adding another emergency debt spending bill where we have not carefully examined every penny of it to make sure it is all necessary and appropriate. No one has seen those numbers and the analysis that would justify it.”
Non-political Reid responded politically. “We have always done what it takes. And we have done it without politics, without pandering and without a moment’s delay until now.”
Catastrophic disasters that overwhelm state and local governments are a welcome sign for FEMA intervention. “However,” said the Heritage analysis, “all too often disaster politics, rather than effective policy, drive decisions on disaster response.” Washington does not know “how to say ‘no’ to spending more on disasters.” So, FEMA no longer can meet its financial commitments. “In fact, the organization owes billions of dollars to state and local governments it has promised for previous disasters, including $1.7 billion to governments in the Gulf Coast region from Katrina.”
Liberals last month tried to beat up on House Majority Leader Eric Cantor for suggesting that emergency management aid should be paid for with cuts elsewhere.
FEMA was never meant to be the disaster response agency for the country. State and local governments—the owners of most of the response resources and first on the scene—should logically take precedence. Supplanting them encourages local entities to be unprepared and to expect the feds to bail them out. Policy analysts say the FEMA act fails to determine which disasters meet federal requirement and which don’t. Congress, analysts say, should limit federal cost sharing to 25 percent of the costs to ensure that most of the cost would be borne by those living where disasters occur. FEMA has insufficient knowledge to calculate thousands of damaged facilities. For example, repair of Louisiana’s Charity Hospital began with a FEMA estimate for repairs of $23 million. Three years later, FEMA increased the funding to $123 million. The state hired experts who concluded the replacement cost were $500 million.
With the debt and deficits Barack Obama has run up, we are totally unprepared for anything like the Japanese disaster—earthquake and tsunami. Few people would have the confidence in our ability to minimize loss of life and property in such a dual catastrophe. We have been partially tested. The deadliest tornado in U.S. history wiped out Joplin, MO, killing at least 117 people in May. In 2005, Hurricane Katrina rushed into the Gulf Coast, costing us $120 billion. According to an estimate from the Wall Street Journal, the cost of Hurricane Irene, including not only wind damage, but flooding, could reach $16 billion.
But Nature keeps her secrets close to her chest. We haven’t had what’s known as the “black swan.” This is an event that lies outside of the realm of any expectation. Matt A. Mayer, a visiting fellow at the Heritage Foundation and author of “Homeland Security and Federalism,” lists examples of black swans, truly unforeseen, which could devastate America:
1. Electromagnetic Pulse (RMP) or Solar Blast. An EMP attack, he wrote, “Could throw America back to the pre-Industrial Revolution era. A powerful solar burst would have the same impact.” No one would have time to react. Damage would be incalculable. If the country lost power for any lengthy period, mass starvation could occur.
2. Pandemic virus. Other than influenza, adequate preparation is absent for any deadly virus. Nearly 800,000 Americans died in the influenza pandemic in 1918.
3. Super-volcanic eruption. Around the Yellowstone caldera, seismic activity is monitored. But tectonic shifts miles beneath the Earth’s surface “could result in the build up of pressure and a super-volcanic eruption.”
Our current federal Obama debt leaves us vulnerable to any real disaster.