FEMA’s budget fluctuates from year to year, but spending has trended sharply upwards in recent decades. The main activity of FEMA is distributing aid to individuals and state and local governments after thomas birkland an introduction to the policy process pdf disasters, such as hurricanes, floods, and earthquakes.
FEMA’s response to some major disasters has been slow, disorganized, and profligate. The agency’s actions have sometimes been harmful, such as when it has blocked the relief efforts of other organizations. FEMA’s dismal response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005 dramatized the agency’s bureaucratic dysfunction. FEMA’s grants for disaster preparedness are known for wastefulness.
As for the NFIP, its insurance subsidies are spurring development in flood-prone areas, which in turn is increasing the damage caused by floods. The NFIP also encourages an expansion of federal regulatory control over local land-use planning. Federalism is supposed to undergird America’s system of handling disasters, particularly natural disasters. State, local, and private organizations should play the dominant role.
Looking at American history, many disasters have generated large outpourings of aid by individuals, businesses, and charitable groups. Today, however, growing federal intervention is undermining the role of private institutions and the states in handling disasters. Policymakers should reverse course and begin cutting FEMA. Ultimately, the agency should be closed down by ending aid programs for disaster preparedness and relief and privatizing flood insurance. 1979 to coordinate the government’s growing involvement in disasters. Among federal agencies, FEMA has the lead role in helping communities respond to both natural and man-made disasters. However, the great bulk of FEMA spending is for natural disasters, which are the main focus of this essay.
Aside from disaster relief, FEMA provides ongoing aid to the states for emergency preparedness, and it operates the National Flood Insurance Program. FEMA employees are generally not first responders. Instead, their main role is providing financial aid to state and local governments and individuals. 10 billion in fiscal 2014, but annual expenditures fluctuate depending on the occurrence of disasters.
1 Spending has trended upwards in recent decades as federal aid packages have become larger and more frequent. 13 billion so far in the 2010s. Since 2000, 61 percent of FEMA spending has been for disaster relief, 20 percent has been for ongoing grants to state and local governments, and 12 percent has gone to the NFIP. 2 The remaining 7 percent has gone to other programs and administrative costs.
Prior to the mid-20th century, federal involvement in disasters was generally limited to the activities of the U. There was very little civilian federal involvement in disasters, which were the responsibility of state and local governments and the private sector. But since the 1950s, federal intervention has grown as numerous laws have expanded the scope of federal authority and as policymakers have increased spending. Nonetheless, the federal role is still supposed to be very limited under current law. 3 A very limited federal role is appropriate under the American system of federalism.
Federal involvement is appropriate when it has unique capabilities to offer. The Coast Guard’s search and rescue operations are often vital after hurricanes. And the National Guard under state command can provide a crucial resource after major disasters, both for law enforcement purposes and relief operations. Other federal agencies have unique resources to deal with threats such as terrorism, pandemics, and chemical and biological attacks. However, the great majority of what FEMA does is not unique. Rather, FEMA’s main role is simply to transfer money from federal taxpayers to state and local governments and individuals for disaster-related costs. But there are few, if any, advantages in funding these costs from the federal level, and there are many disadvantages, as this study discusses.
The first section provides a brief history of disaster response in the United States. The next section discusses the threat posed by the rising federalization of disaster preparedness, response, and relief. Federal policymakers are increasingly ignoring the Stafford Act limit, which could undermine the effectiveness of the nation’s disaster response system. Then the study examines FEMA’s performance in disaster response. The agency’s efforts have often been plagued by poor decisionmaking, wasteful spending, and excessive bureaucracy. Some of its actions have been counterproductive and harmful. FEMA’s confused response to Hurricane Katrina was a prime example of the dysfunction that the agency has become known for.
Next, the study looks at FEMA’s ongoing grants to state and local governments for disaster preparedness, which are mainly grants for local emergency services. These grants have often wasted money on low-value activities. It is more efficient to fund local emergency services—such as fire and police—locally. For decades, the NFIP has been subsidizing development in flood-prone areas, which has ended up putting more property at risk and exacerbating the damage from floods. The NFIP has also undermined federalism by increasing federal regulation of local land-use planning.
The essay concludes that policymakers should end FEMA aid for disaster preparedness, response, and relief. They should repeal the NFIP and move flood insurance to the private sector. Those reforms would reduce FEMA spending by more than 90 percent. Remaining activities that may fulfill a unique role—such as flood mapping, planning for the continuity of government, and preparedness for technological and radiological hazards—should be moved to other federal agencies. 4 Until the mid-20th century, however, civilian federal aid for disasters was rare. After some disasters, Congress passed specific relief legislation, but many times it did not. In 1802 Portsmouth, New Hampshire, was destroyed by a fire.