Paulison: Increase the size of FEMA

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is still far short of its recruitment goals, but its director, R. David Paulison, says he wants to expand the agency’s staffing even beyond those goals.

“It’s been a slower process than I thought. It’s more difficult to get people on board in the federal government than at the local level, but we are doing it and we are going to fill this agency up,” Paulison said on Sunday’s Meet the Press. “And I’m also looking to increase the size of this agency. I’m looking forward to working with Congress to increase the size of FEMA to do the things they expect us to do.”

As if the biggest problem with FEMA was understaffing. The number one complaint I hear from the Gulf Coast is there was too much FEMA and too little action.

One of the things FEMA is apparently expected to do is urban search and rescue, and a report (PDF) released this week by the Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General says that FEMA’s urban search and rescue teams are underfunded, understaffed, and in need of better oversight.

Urban search and rescue “is a great program, staffed with the cream of the crop of the first responder community,” said House Homeland Security Committee Ranking Member Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss. “However, as we have seen with FEMA as a larger agency, the program lacks consistent funding, financial oversight and adequate administrative staffing to handle routine maintenance of the program.”

The IG report criticized FEMA for evenly distributing funds among 28 task forces instead of evaluating the needs of each individual team. The IG also said FEMA failed to evaluate the teams’ work and set clear goals for them. To be better prepared for the next emergency they face, the urban search and rescue units must be completely staffed, fully funded and better analyzed, the report said. — Government Executive

FEMA hiring shortfalls don’t just extend to permanent staff, though. The agency is finding it hard to fill temporary, seasonal and on-call positions as well.

FEMA also is recruiting temporary workers, known as Cadre On-Call Regional Employees. But three Gulf Coast states are having difficulty hiring for these positions. Currently, Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi have filled 1,115 of 2,363 projected CORE positions — 47 percent of the total, according to statistics provided to Government Executive by FEMA’s Atlanta regional office. . . .

“Sadly, when it comes to catastrophic planning, this administration has been penny-wise and pound-foolish,” said Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss. “Billions of American tax dollars and donations were wasted. Worse yet, the small businesses in or near communities hard hit by the storm were never afforded the opportunity to rebuild their own communities.” — Government Executive

Ah, you can always count on good old Bennie Thompson for a quote which shows the government for the incompetent bureaucracy it is — and then, unfortunately for everyone, to give the incompetent bureaucracy more money and make it an even bigger incompetent bureaucracy.

Paulison also cited improvements in communications and logistics which he says will help improve FEMA’s response to future disasters. “Communications, logistics, victim registration, having more contracts in place to make sure that we are going to be ready,” Paulison said. “And this agency is going to respond in a proper manner.”

So far this hurricane season, FEMA has performed admirably, and nobody has died as a result of their bungling incompetence. But no hurricanes have yet hit the continental U.S., either, just a couple of tropical storms which couldn’t quite get up to category 1 before making landfall.

In the meantime, you should get really ready for the next disaster.

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