Statement of Senator Jim Jeffords
Hearing on the Federal Response to September 11
Good morning. Thank you all for coming today. I especially want to welcome Governor Christine Todd Whitman, the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, and Joe Allbaugh, the Director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
We meet today, two weeks after the first anniversary of the September 11th attacks, to reflect on the Federal government's response to those tragic events.
In the days following the attacks, I visited both the Pentagon and World Trade Center. Over the past year, I have spoken often of these visits and their profound effect on me. I was incredibly impressed by the devotion of thousands of workers from around the country coming together to bring calm and order to an otherwise chaotic situation.
I congratulate Administrator Whitman, Director Allbaugh, and all of the dedicated civil servants at the EPA and FEMA for their outstanding service.
The events of September 11th have also taught me a great deal about the way the Federal government responds to disasters. I saw firsthand how the EPA and numerous other Federal agencies, under the able coordination of FEMA, responded to the events of that terrible day. While we can always improve, the Federal government's response to September 11th went remarkably well.
The unprecedented events of a year ago presented unique challenges to both FEMA and EPA. The purpose of this hearing is to explore how each Agency addressed those challenges and how the lessons learned will enable us to better assist victims of future disasters. I look forward to hearing the testimony of both panels of witnesses and to the opportunity to examine specific issues.
Over the past several weeks, I have expressed concern about the inclusion of FEMA into a new Department of Homeland Security. As we have heard before and will hear today from Director Allbaugh, given the enormity of the task presented to FEMA, the Agency's response to September 11th was a great success.
Because of this, I continue to question why the President and some of my colleagues propose a wholesale change in the way the Federal government handles emergency management. A wise man once said, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."
Absorbing FEMA into a Department of Homeland Security could jeopardize the hard-earned reforms of the Agency over the past decade.
As it now stands, FEMA is a lean, flexible agency, and Director Allbaugh reports directly to President Bush. This allows the Director to coordinate directly with cabinet agencies, such as the EPA, and to effectively deliver supplemental assistance to States and local communities when major disasters strike.
I agree with the President that expanding FEMA's preparedness activities to further enhance the capabilities of State and local first responders to deal with terrorist activity is essential, but these enhanced responsibilities must be in addition to and not at the expense of natural disaster preparedness.
Similarly, EPA is rightfully expanding its incident response capabilities to deal with any future acts of terrorism. But I worry that this increased focus on counter-terrorism may detract from the Agency's oversight of the nation's environmental priorities.
In conclusion, if I thought for a moment the nation's emergency management system was broken, I would lead the charge to fix it. After observing the Federal response to September 11th, I believe there is room for improvement, and I look forward to discussing these issues today. But I do not believe that a dramatic reorganization of the Federal government is necessary to address the needed improvements.
To jeopardize FEMA's ability to respond to disasters and EPA's stewardship of our environment in the name of homeland security would be a misguided endeavor.
As the first President Bush said, "A time of historic change is no time for recklessness."
I look forward to a productive discussion on these issues.