FEMA’s mission is worth preserving

While Hurricane Irene was wreaking havoc on much of the East Coast last weekend, Texas Congressman and GOP presidential candidate Ron Paul was creating a storm of his own.

He suggested that FEMA — the Federal Emergency Management Agency — should be eliminated because it just gets in the way of local officials. Also, he told CNN, the agency has “one of the worst reputations of bureacracy” in Washington.

But this isn’t the FEMA of 2005, which so badly bungled its response to Hurricane Katrina. And Paul’s complaint is decidedly off-target. Fortunately, it isn’t gaining much traction, even among fellow Republicans.

“FEMA has been very responsive,” New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said Sunday, according to the Washington Times. “The cooperation between New Jersey and FEMA has been great.”

Democratic leaders in other states were equally laudatory of FEMA’s efforts in response to Irene. And House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, an outspoken advocate of severe budget cuts, said Monday Congress would find money to allow FEMA and states to deal with Irene’s damage.

Although there is a dispute over Cantor’s pledge to offset any such assistance with cuts in other federal programs, there is little controversy over another part of his statement: “This is a time when there is an appropriate government role.”

Cantor is right. There are times when the federal government has a big part to play in helping state and local entities prepare for and recover from natural disasters.

Ron Paul cited the 1900 hurricane that struck Galveston, Texas — in Paul’s congressional district — as an example of Americans responding to a natural disaster without federal government assistance. But he’s wrong on that count, as well.

The 1900 hurricane killed at least 6,000 people and most of Galveston’s local infrastructure was destroyed. But, among the first folks to come to the aid of the city were agents of the U.S. government — Army troops from Galveston and Houston who worked to restore order.

In addition, the War Department quickly dispatched food and tents to the city, and President McKinley ordered more troops and supplies.

More than a century ago, U.S. leaders and citizens recognized that this country has a shared responsibility to aid our communities beset by natural calamities, that some events are too large to be handled entirely by state and local governments and private organizations.

Last weekend, FEMA demonstrated that it has progressed significantly since the days of Hurricane Katrina. By all accounts, it was a well-prepared partner with state and local agencies in helping respond to Irene, not some overbearing federal agency throwing its weight around.

That’s why we will continue to fund FEMA, despite the rantings of Ron Paul.


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