Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is a subsidiary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). It coordinates US government responses to various disasters and becomes active when a governor declares a state of emergency.
The governor of the state in which the disaster occurs must declare a state of emergency and request FEMA assistance. FEMA is said to provide "experts" in disaster relief and supposedly the agency knows how to help with rebuilding efforts.
FEMA provides low interest loans and helps train people on the ground in how to respond to emergencies. Defenders of the agency say that it is merely an elaboration of what came before its organization in the 1970s.
As early as 1803, Congress was providing disaster relief. The example cited is a bill that temporarily eliminated tariffs for Portsmouth merchants on imported goods after devastating fires in the area.
Between 1803 and 1930, various kinds of disaster relief were apportioned by Congress perhaps 100 times. The kinds of relief varied in size and scope. Congress is even said to have compensated those who experienced – and were injured in – the chaos that followed the shooting of President Abraham Lincoln at John T. Ford's Theatre.
Nonetheless, FEMA has numerous critics whose criticisms have not been damped even though FEMA has been around for decades. Hurricane Andrew in 1992 provides one example of supposed problems with FEMA. The response of the agency was said to be slow and inefficient despite its huge budget. Various governmental studies in the aftermath showed that FEMA's reactions were weak and ineffective. This seems to be a pattern the agency has exhibited throughout its history.
FEMA's role in the 9/11 attacks also came under criticism but it has received most of its negative publicity during reactions to hurricanes. Disbursement of funds is often slow and apparently rife with fraud. The agency has a habit of paying out damages and assistance without verifying need, while refusing payments to others who do have verified need.
One of the most terrible incidents involving FEMA's local assistance came in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, which affected much of New Orleans and drowned many outlying areas. FEMA helped organize the infamous shelter at the New Orleans Astrodome, in which thousands were remanded to the stadium and then left there for days without sufficient food and water or hygienic facilities. Numerous rapes and other kinds of violence were reported; but evacuation was torturously slow and FEMA received a great deal of negative publicity at the time.
Over and over, FEMA's record in response to disasters is criticized after the fact. Millions are disbursed without records or even justification. And the actions that FEMA takes are often arbitrary and even result in the death of individuals who have escaped the worst ravages of the disaster itself.
Libertarians might be tempted to observe that often the biggest disaster in any region of the United States is FEMA itself, an agency of monumental scope and intractable inefficiency. Over and over FEMA proves the axiom that some of the most feared words in the English language are "I'm from the government and I'm here to help."
With such an overwhelmingly negative record, many question why FEMA still exists. The conspiratorial wing of the libertarian/patriot movement has long postulated that FEMA's real institutional task is to be the US federal government's arm in helping to implement martial law in the face of social unrest and rebellion against Draconian fedgov moves.
Whatever FEMA's real reason for existing, its behavior and actions should give no one confidence that its future responses will be any less deadly or any more supportive than what has come before. It remains an example of the worst kind of government boondoggle, an agency that will persist despite endless, ongoing inefficiency and corruption. Post mortems come and go. FEMA unfortunately remains.
News & Analysis
|09/02/11||DB Briefs: Great Men Run the World, Especially Politicians and Bankers / Greece Is OK Now and Recovering From Its Problems/ FEMA Federal Family|
|11/06/12||The Economics of Disaster|
|04/10/12||In Praise of Private Charity|
|09/06/11||We're From the Government. We're Here to Help.|