Statement of Michael J. Armstrong
Nominated by the President to be Associate Director of Mitigation
for the Federal Emergency Management Agency
June 4, 1997

Mr. Chairman, I am deeply honored to come before this Committee today, and to be given the opportunity to discuss serving my country, and this Administration, in this manner. I want to acknowledge my friends in the Congress, starting with my home state Senators Campbell and Allard, the North Dakota delegation of Senators Dorgan and Conrad, and Representative Pomeroy, and my own Congressman, Representative Skaggs of Colorado's Second District, for their support and their attendance today. I especially want to recognize FEMA Director James Lee Will, who has shown such leadership for America and such confidence in my work. He has been a true motivator and inspiration to me. Most importantly, I would like to introduce the Committee to my parents, Dermond and Joan Armstrong, who came out from Colorado to be with me today.

The work of this Committee with respect to FEMA and its new mitigation mission has been truly historic. It has expanded the scope of the Stafford Act to create increased mitigation opportunities after disasters occur, and it has encouraged efforts to promote more pre-disaster mitigation. In confirming the agency's first Associate Director for Mitigation, this committee ratified the efforts of FEMA to spotlight mitigation as a key component of its mission.

We have learned that whatever form it takes, mitigation requires many partners, much patience, and a sensitivity to local needs. As a FEMA appointee since 1994, I have seen that partnerships, patience and listening to local needs have created successful mitigation projects throughout the country. Some successes have been dramatic, such as the relocation of an entire town. Some have been more subtle, such as the public/private/non- profit partnership in my region, when FEMA brochures on wildfire preparedness were underwritten by Janus Funds and distributed by local Rotary Club members in the foothill communities west of Denver. Most mitigation initiatives must be viewed in the long term, as investments for future generations. And, to have a realistic chance of success, they must involve a mixture of federal, state and local stakeholders. Mitigation can manifest itself in many different forms: something as delicate as passage of tougher local regulations, as complicated as retrofitting structures to withstand natural hazards, or as insightful as effective public education programs involving specialists ,families and schoolchildren.

As a former local and state government official, I bring a definite bias toward local government to this job. My tenure as a FEMA Regional Director reinforced the belief that unless state, county and local governments believe that a concept, initiative or program has local relevancy and is understandable, it will stand little chance of true, lasting success. While the federal government can be a catalyst for innovation, real progress can only be realized when state and local officials feel they are part of the process.

The creation of a Mitigation Directorate has provided better customer service to our partners by bringing together like-minded programs and staff who have helped create a more functional organization. I am proud of my association with the hard working staff of FEMA, at both the regional and headquarters levels. We can point to project after project which will protect lives and property, and as a result also lessen the drain of disasters on the federal treasury. We can indicate the numerous partnerships which have been created with business, non-profit, and academic communities to promote mitigation. Now we must move forward.

I am before you today because, if confirmed, I want to serve in a leadership capacity in what James Lee Witt has called the cornerstone for emergency management in the 21st century. If confirmed, I want to enlist you in the effort to support and educate communities in their efforts to become disaster resistant. I believe that, if confirmed, I can take my experience as a public servant serving at the field implementation level, and bring practical knowledge to the policy developers regarding how to move this program ahead.

A thought came to me regarding this confirmation process as I was attending my last church service in my hometown of Arvada, Colorado. It occurred to me that perhaps the most dramatic example of mitigation efforts we have is that of Noah in the Old Testament. Here was an individual who believed in selecting the right structure to withstand a predicted hazard, even as others scoffed at his efforts as being a waste of time and money. In fact, you could even say that this was the one of the first known successful relocation efforts, done before a disaster and by an individual rather than a government. We have modern day Noahs, who have heeded warnings about potential disasters. One in California comes to mind: the gentleman who built his home to withstand fire hazards in the Laguna Beach area, and made national news with the photograph of the only home standing undamaged in an otherwise charred environment, because he took the time to understand the environment in which he was building, and built accordingly. This is mitigation in its purest form: where individual citizens take it upon themselves to think smartly when they build or occupy structures, and learn how to adapt to hazards in their own community. But not every individual has the opportunity to control his or her living environment. Therefore, we must work with our partners in state and local government to put into place the kind of approaches which will, one day, equip our nation with the tools and talents to create communities which are more resistant to disasters. The best all of us can do, in our professional and personal capacities, is create a national environment which encourages such responsible behavior. You have my personal commitment to pursue this goal.

Mr. Chairman, I appreciate this opportunity and look forward to your questions.