Rebuilding After the Storm: Lessening Impacts and Speeding Recovery
2167 Rayburn House Office Building
This hearing of the Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings, and Emergency Management will focus on saving taxpayer dollars by lessening the impacts of disasters and strategies for speeding disaster recoveries. With this hearing, Chairman Barletta and the Subcommittee are launching an assessment of the rising costs of disasters, the cost effectiveness of disaster assistance, strategies to reduce disaster losses, and the appropriate roles of government and the private sector. As part of that process, the Subcommittee will also consider possible emergency management program reforms that can help save lives through improved alerts and warning systems and search and rescue.
Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings, and Emergency Management
Hearing on “Rebuilding After the Storm: Lessening Impacts and Speeding Recovery”
January 27, 2015
I would like to thank Chairman Shuster for the opportunity to serve again as chairman of this Subcommittee. I look forward to working with Ranking Member Carson and building on our bipartisan record of accomplishment from last Congress. And let me welcome the new and returning members of the Subcommittee to our first hearing.
Last Congress we saved 2.2 billion dollars on GSA projects and passed the Sandy Recovery Improvement Act. These were major accomplishments and I thank everyone involved in them.
This Congress my two top priorities are public buildings reform and disaster legislation. I think we can exceed the GSA savings from last Congress, and we have some important reforms to tackle in the emergency management world. I hope we can have disaster legislation and a GSA reform bill ready for the committee to consider in the first half of this year.
The purpose of today’s hearing is to launch a public policy debate about the growing human and financial costs of disasters and to review if we – as a Nation – are responding in the most appropriate and cost-effective way.
The private sector and government are spending an ever increasing amount of money on disasters. FEMA alone has obligated more than $178 billion since 1989 for over 1,300 presidential disaster declarations. Those numbers are going up, and I don’t believe we fully understand why or what can be done to reduce those losses and protect our citizens.
Over the past eight years, Chairman Shuster and this committee made critical emergency management reforms through the Post Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act and the Sandy Recovery Improvement Act. These bills, the hard work of FEMA, and our state and local partners have made tremendous improvements to our disaster response capabilities since Hurricane Katrina.
Now is the time to take a look at how the Nation responds to disasters and where we want to head in the future. There has not been a comprehensive assessment of disaster aid and trends in at least 20 years.
In recent years, specifically in reaction to Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy, significant disaster aid has been provided outside the standard disaster relief programs.
There are many questions we should try and answer. For example: How much do we really spend on disasters? Where is the money going? And what are the key drivers of those cost increases? How have disaster programs evolved over time? Are they still targeted at the greatest need and are they cost beneficial? What are the principles guiding federal assistance and how it is used to rebuild in the wake of a disaster? How can we bend the growing cost curve and ensure there is less damage and fewer people hurt in the future?
Some of the answers may surprise you, as they have surprised me.
I noticed in Mr. McCarthy’s testimony only a handful of disasters account for over 90 percent of all disaster spending since 1989. So if we want to understand why federal disaster costs are growing, we need to understand why a handful of mega-disasters cost so much.
Right after I became a Member of Congress, my district was hit hard by Hurricane Irene and Tropical Strom Lee. I remember in Bloomsburg, a family stayed in their home to try to move their possessions to an upper floor. But Fishing Creek rose too quickly. The house next to theirs was knocked from its foundation. Water started gushing through their front windows as they called for help. They had to be saved by a helicopter. The woman there told me she can never live in that home again.
I will never forget that preparing for natural disasters is about more than the loss of possessions – it’s our friends and neighbors lives that could be at stake if we do not plan in advance. As we were rebuilding, I was amazed that much of the federal assistance was to rebuild in the same place in the same way, leaving people vulnerable to the next storm. We have to be compassionate and responsive to our citizens, but we also have a duty to be good stewards of the taxpayer dollar.
I am committed to establishing a framework to tackle these issues and come up with solutions that are driven by facts and data, rather than the emotion that inevitably follows a disaster.
I don’t have all the answers, but we will pull together the right people to get them. The first step is this hearing, where we have brought together some key people to launch this discussion.
I also am excited to announce that following this hearing, on February 26, we will host the first of several roundtables on this topic. This first roundtable will look at disaster losses from all levels of government and the private sector.
I look forward to the ongoing conversations, starting with hearing from our witnesses today.
# # #