Mr. Chairman, I want to thank you for holding this hearing.
For the last several Congresses, I have been interested in taking a closer look at the role of the Stafford Act in determining how our nation responds to terrorist events, as well as natural disasters. I am glad that we are finally gathered here to address this critical issue.
Before we begin, I think it is worthwhile to remember where we have been. Over the last 200 years, we have moved from an ad-hoc approach to disaster response to a coordinated, orderly approach under the Stafford Act, named after my good friend and mentor, Senator Bob Stafford.
On September 11th, the nation was struck by a terrorist attack. A week later, as I toured Ground Zero, I saw firsthand how the Stafford Act and FEMA helped to reduce the impact of those events. FEMA’s response was orderly and effective.
But then the Department of Homeland Security was formed, and FEMA was brought into that Department. I believe this was a terrible mistake, one that failed to take into account the unique mission of FEMA in responding to natural disasters. And we paid dearly for that mistake when Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast last August.
There have been many legislative proposals to modify our disaster response program – some specific to Hurricane Katrina, some not. However, I believe that the biggest risk in a post-Katrina environment is that the flurry of legislative activity after a disaster becomes the norm, rather than the exception.
Our nation deserves a federal disaster response that is coordinated, consistent and predictable. That is why we passed the Stafford Act, which has served us well over these many years.
As we move forward, we must ensure that our states and our communities know what to expect as they develop their own emergency response plans. As Congress determines what the next steps are, we must ask ourselves: In the aftermath of Katrina, did we witness a performance failure by the Federal agencies, or are we missing needed authority?
Today, this Committee, as the Committee of jurisdiction over the Stafford Act, is seeking to answer that question. I look forward to the testimony of our witnesses, and I look forward to cooperating with you, Mr. Chairman, as we consider legislative changes that may be necessary to respond to our findings today.