On Tuesday, February 14, 2017 the House Subcommittee on Emergency Preparedness, Response, and Communications, part of the Committee on Homeland Security, met with three witnesses to determine priorities as FEMA prepares for a new administrator to lead the Agency. The hearing was entitled “The Future of FEMA.” Chairman Donovan’s (NY-R) opening statement focused on the work FEMA does and the need to continue to work with all partners in emergency response. Ranking Member Payne’s (NJ-D) opening statement expressed his concern that the recent executive order pulling FEMA funding from sanctuary cities, with law enforcement exemptions, was put into place without any communication with those impacted by the order or responsible for fulfilling it, and before a new FEMA administrator is in place.

FEMA MERs truck in Fargo, North Dakota (Wikimedia Commons)

Captain Chris Kelenske, head of Emergency Management and Homeland Security in Michigan, testified on behalf of the National Governor’s Association. Captain Kelenske emphasized the importance of the state-federal partnership and the federal grant programs, and highlighted FEMA’s role in cyber security. Second, President of the International Association of Fire Chiefs, Chief John Sinclair spoke about the importance of federal grant programs providing resources to first responders, who are “on the scene long before the federal government can take action.” Chief Sinclair asked that all public safety departments be exempt from the recent order pulling funding, rather than just law enforcement, as the order currently prescribes. Last, Richard Bland, the National Director of Save the Children, advocated for the creation of a permanent Children’s Needs Adviser position in FEMA, to ensure children’s needs are looked after during disasters. This position currently only exists at the administrator’s discretion. Mr. Bland highlighted the need for the position, pointing out that “currently less than 1/10 of 1% of all Federal Preparedness grants go to children’s needs.”

After the witnesses delivered their statements, committee members Donovan (NY-R), Payne (NJ-D), Rutherford (FL-R), Langevin (RI-D), Representative Payne asked whether the administration had been in contact with any of the witnesses to discusses new policy, especially the recent executive order, and its impact to those on the ground. All three replied that they had spoken with both candidates prior to the election, but not since then. Reps. Rutherford and Garrett asked whether any of the witnesses had spoken to the leadership of sanctuary cities as Garrett said, to “warn them of the consequences rather than coming here to ask us not to enforce federal law.” The witnesses said that they had not and the representatives recommended that they do so. Concluding the hearing, Representative Langevin discussed the need for FEMA to continue coordination on cybersecurity issues.

The full hearing, and submitted statements can be found here.

Sources and Further Reading:

Opening Statement from Chairman Donovan

Testimony from Captain Kelenske

Testimony from Chief Sinclair

Testimony from Richard Bland