U.S. Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works
U.S. Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works
Hearing Statements
Date:   09/24/2003
Statement of Sen. Voinovich
FEMA Oversight.

The Hearing will come to order. Good morning.

Today’s hearing continues our ongoing oversight of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). This oversight has long been a priority for the Environment and Public Works Committee, and it is my intention as chairman of this Subcommittee to continue this strong oversight. Today’s hearing is also the first FEMA oversight hearing we have held since the Agency was transferred into the Department of Homeland Security.

The attacks of September 11 were unprecedented in scope and have served as a catalyst for major reform within the federal government and its ability to prevent and respond to such events in the future.

Also unprecedented was our nation’s response to the attacks. Thousands of workers and volunteers from around the country responded to those in need at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, including seventy-four Ohioans, who arrived in New York City within 24 hours of the attacks as part of Ohio Task Force One – one of FEMA’s Urban Search and Rescue Teams.

The attacks of September 11th were the most costly disaster in U.S. history. President Bush pledged $20 billion in aid and approximately $7.4 billion of it is being distributed through FEMA’s public assistance program. The public assistance program is used throughout the country to provide grants to state and local governments to respond to and recover from disasters.

In order to ensure that FEMA was properly carrying out its obligations in response to the attacks, Chairman Inhofe, Senator Jeffords, Senator Clinton, and I requested that the GAO look into three aspects of FEMA’s response:

  • What activities the Agency supported in New York through its public assistance program;
  • How this response differed from the approach to providing public assistance in past disasters; and
  • What implications this approach may have on the delivery of public assistance should other major terrorist attacks occur.

    I understand that GAO has completed its review and analysis of FEMA’s actions and I look forward to hearing from GAO about what they have found.

    Also in response to the attacks, members of this Committee on both sides of the aisle – including myself – worked with the Administration to create the Department of Homeland Security and move several Administration agencies – including FEMA – into the Department.

    Members of this Committee have also worked with the Administration to ensure that they have all of the tools necessary to prevent events of this magnitude from ever happening again. To date, this has been an issue where partisanship has been kept in check because there is no questioning the fact that we must be able to prevent a repeat of that terrible day. I hope that we will be able to keep politics away from this issue as we look back at those events and our response to them.

    As members of this Subcommittee know, the Homeland Security Act of 2002 created the Department of Homeland Security, established a Directorate of Emergency Preparedness and Response, and transferred the functions, personnel, assets and liabilities of FEMA (along with several other Administration Systems and Offices) into that Directorate. The Act also defined the homeland security role of FEMA, maintains FEMA as the lead agency for the Federal Response Plan established by Executive Order, and requires the FEMA director to revise the Plan to reflect the establishment of DHS.

    The creation of the Department of Homeland Security is the largest reorganization of federal agencies and activities since the creation of the Department of Defense in 1947. Any reorganization of this magnitude will need some time to be fully implemented and will take even longer before all of the structural stresses in the new Department can be identified, let alone resolved. I – along with my colleagues on the Committee – am interested in making sure that FEMA continues to perform its duties adequately during this lengthy transition period.

    During debate on the Homeland Security Act, I included the first government wide workforce reforms since the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978 – 25 years ago. I am hopeful that these new flexibilities, which all federal agencies now may use, will complement the specific human capital authorities granted to the Department, which is still in the process of establishing its personnel system. I have been pleased to hear from union leadership that the work of the DHS personnel system design team has been inclusive and collaborative. I would be interested in hearing any observations the witnesses might have on how these workforce flexibilities are helping FEMA manage its critically important part of the Department of Homeland Security team.

    Finally, at a hearing conducted by this Committee on the attacks last year, I learned that members of the FEMA teams that responded to the call for assistance at Ground Zero had been denied health coverage. In response, I sent letters to former FEMA Director Joe Allbaugh and Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao asking them to develop a process for providing these workers the health coverage they need and deserve. I would like to know what process has been put in place to prevent such denials of coverage and eliminate any confusion surrounding the filing process from happening again.

    It is extremely important that we take care of these individuals because whether people want to be first responders in the future depends on how first responders from the World Trade Center are treated. In order to ensure that those brave souls that respond to – as well as those that live and work in the area of – a disaster are protected, monitored, and informed of risks, Senator Clinton and I have introduced the Disaster Area Health and Environmental Monitoring Act of 2003 (S. 1279). This important legislation was reported out of the Committee on July 30, and I would like to hear any comments that our witnesses have on it.

    Our first witness today is the Under Secretary for the Emergency and Response Directorate in the Department of Homeland Security, Michael Brown.

    On the second panel, we have JayEtta Hecker from the General Accounting Office and Rick Skinner who is the Deputy Inspector General of the Department of Homeland Security.

    On the final panel, we will hear from Bud Larson from New York City and the Executive Director of the Ohio Emergency Management Agency, Dale Shipley.

    I thank each of our witnesses for coming here to discuss these issues today, and I look forward to their testimony.