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Following the response to Hurricane Andrew in 1992, some failing in Congressional oversight of FEMA were found. One of these was the lack of qualified personnel and leadership and communication and coordination among multiple levels of government. At the time, FEMA had the largest proportion of political appointees of any federal agency. Most of these were unqualified for leadership. Many of the officials have little or no experience in emergency management before coming to FEMA. Hence, the agency had little chance of responding to the disaster with speed, effectiveness, and efficiency. Secondly, neither the federal government nor the state of Florida had a workable plan in place to assess catastrophic damage or a plan to share the information and findings with other governments, something that significantly delayed federal response.
Between 1992 and 2001, improvements were made to FEMA. One of the improvements came under President Clinton who appointed many highly experienced disaster management officials to FEMA. Moreover, under James Lee Witt, the then new director changed the procedures and protocols that FEMA used to coordinate with the states as well as reduced cumbersome internal regulations. However, there was little oversight over FEMA because these changes had come through executive orders rather than congressional statute. Congress played a vital role in the creation of Homeland Security in line with the guidelines laid down under the Homeland Security Act (Mycoff 21). This meant that disaster preparedness and the response was not only made more effective and efficient under the new reorganized federal emergency management system but also in a manner that was under the oversight of the Congress.
Following Hurricane Katrina in 2005, some failings in Congressional oversight of FEMA were identified. These problems can be summarized in the execution of the National Response Plan, military involvement, communications systems, medical care and evacuation, and logistics and contracting systems. The federal government failed in executing the NRP in that the decision to aid without a formal mandate should have been made much sooner. In regards to communication, coordination had been severely limited by the massive failures in the communication systems and the lack of anticipation in preparing for the losses of the systems. Military involvement had posed a challenge due to lack of joint training and information sharing between the military and federal, state and local agencies prevented an efficient response. Lastly, officials at all levels of management had erred by failing to enter into contracts with service providers before the hurricane. The supply chain became overwhelmed by the wait to hire later and supplies from different agencies began to arrive uncoordinated sometimes without a designated destination.
Between Hurricane Andrew and Katrina, the oversight role of Congress seems to not have evolved. To start with, Congress never enacted most of the recommendations for the reform of FEMA posed by the various congressional committees in the wake of Hurricane Andrew. As a result, FEMA resumed its previous practices with changes made by President Clinton and Witt. After GAO reported to Congress its findings in 2005 and 2006 into the response to Hurricane Katrina, the same problems identified in 1994 after Hurricane Andrew were found again (Mycoff 27). Hence, the country was not prepared especially in terms of command, communication, and coordination. Moreover, by failing to create a single authority within the White House to institutionalize direct presidential involvement, speed, efficiency, and effectiveness in disaster response was hampered.
Mycoff, Jason D. "Congress and Katrina: A Failure of Oversight." State & Local Government Review 39.1 (2007): 16-30. Print.
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