FEMA: The Current State of Disaster Readiness, Response, and Recovery
2167 Rayburn House Office Building
This is a hearing of the Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings, and Emergency Management.
Opening remarks, as prepared, of Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Sam Graves (R-MO) and Economic Development, Public Buildings, and Emergency Management Subcommittee Chairman Scott Perry (R-PA) from today’s hearing, entitled “FEMA: The Current State of Disaster Readiness, Response, and Recovery”:
Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Sam Graves
Thank you, Chairman Perry, and thank you to Administrator Criswell for being here today.
On a bipartisan basis, the Committee and this subcommittee in particular, have worked to improve FEMA and the federal government’s emergency management system. I am proud to again be one of the co-chairs of FEMA’s National Preparedness Month to help educate the American people on what they can do to be prepared.
FEMA’s role is critical. With recent flooding events and tornados in my district, it’s important for FEMA to work quickly and closely with the State Emergency Management Agencies and local responders.
Last month, on August 4th, an EF-2 tornado ripped through the city of Baring in Knox County, Missouri. Governor Parson submitted a federal disaster declaration on September 6th, and I hope FEMA will work swiftly and efficiently to approve this declaration so the people of Missouri can continue to recover.
I also hope that many of the reforms we have passed in my time on the Committee will help remove unnecessary red tape and bureaucratic policies as we move through the recovery process.
I look forward to hearing from the Administrator today on this and other critical issues as we prepare for and respond to disasters across the Nation.
Economic Development, Public Buildings, and Emergency Management Subcommittee Chairman Scott Perry
I want to thank our witness, the Honorable Deanne Criswell, the Administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency for being here today.
Today, we are focusing on the current state of FEMA’s readiness, response, and recovery. FEMA’s core mission is to help people before, during, and after disasters.
Unfortunately, FEMA has added layers of bureaucracy and pushed political agendas, which have impacted how it delivers on its core mission. The Biden Administration is pushing an agenda focused on climate change and equity, diverting away from FEMA’s core mission.
On August 28th, the Committee was alerted that the Disaster Relief Fund (DRF) would move to immediate needs funding (INF) until additional funds are appropriated. Under INF, federal reimbursements to states, territories, and federally recognized tribes for long-term disaster recovery projects are halted.
Instead, the remaining balance in the DRF is reserved for any immediate, life-saving response activities. Committee staff first asked FEMA back in February what it was going to do to avoid the DRF running out of money, since FEMA’s own monthly reports indicated the DRF was projected to be depleted by now.
FEMA provided no real solutions or answers.
Despite ongoing inquiries in the weeks and months since, we were not notified of a supplemental request until it was officially submitted to Congress in August, and the request was tied to Ukraine spending.
In the wake of one of the deadliest fires in United States history, a supplemental request for additional disaster funding comes with strings attached to Ukraine. I have overarching concerns about decisions being made that waste taxpayer dollars and reduce our readiness.
We see FEMA’s funding request to support domestic disaster response activities tied with Ukraine. We see FEMA, under this administration, significantly expanding its mitigation programs in ways that no longer require projects to demonstrate that they will in fact reduce costs and save lives – all in the name of equity and climate change. We also see FEMA resources diverted for other purposes, such as the border crisis, despite FEMA reportedly being understaffed.
The Homeland Security Act prohibits “the diversion of FEMA assets, functions, or mission for the continuing use of any other DHS organization unless such assignments do not reduce the capability of FEMA to perform its missions.”
FEMA clearly has a significant capacity problem, and every diversion of resources undermines its ability to perform core missions – the Government Accountability Office (GAO) confirmed this capacity issue at a hearing earlier this year. But we know, in response to letters from Chairman Graves of the Full Committee to FEMA, that key FEMA personnel have been diverted by the Secretary to help with the border crisis.
FEMA’s Emergency Food and Shelter Program, originally created to help homeless Americans, has now become a migrant program. I know I may disagree with many of my colleagues on the role the federal government should play when it comes to disasters. But, regardless, FEMA should not be used to advance partisan policy objectives, and FEMA resources should not be diverted for other purposes unrelated to its mission.
Ultimately, all of this impacts FEMA’s readiness and ability to respond to disasters happening across the country, from the Maui wildfires to Hurricane Idalia, and multiple flooding events. We can debate the role of the federal government, but at the very least, we need to ensure FEMA is focused on its core mission.
I look forward to hearing from you today, Administrator Criswell.