New Critique of FEMA — from the Cato Institute

The Cato Institute, a conservative think tank in Washington, DC, just issued a major critique of FEMA, titled The Federal Emergency Management Agency: Floods, Failures, and Federalism. Full report is 32 pages, including 9 pages of footnotes! [But he managed to miss Emergency Management; the American Experience, 1900-2010, edited by the Diva.]

I agree with some of his points, but surely not the general thrust of the piece.  Update: I have already heard from several readers about this article, some of which are in the comment section below. (Others were direct emails to the Diva.) And fellow blogger, Eric Holdeman, picked up on the report today.

And a couple of people who are readers of this blog are quoted in the CATO piece.


6 thoughts on “New Critique of FEMA — from the Cato Institute

  1. I actually agree with a lot of it, but I’m sick and tired of the every few years “get rid of FEMA” articles that keep missing the same points such as (A) who is actually going to coordinate all the disparate Federal agencies and assistance programs (B) provide the “neutral” coordination point for State, local and non-govt actors (JFOs) (C) Who is going to pay when States get hit by multi-billion dollar disasters they have no chance of paying for from their own tax base. My point is, it’s a tired trope and people should just stop writing them until they can actually answer the same reoccurring questions. NFIP gets thrown in there too.

    Source: anonymous reader

  2. The Cato White Paper does contain some thoughtful points, as Claire Rubin suggests. It also contains multiple quite unlikely allegations presented as “facts” which deserve careful examination and research.

    A thorough review is most certainly needed of our current National system of promoting and regulating development and redevelopment so that we carefully and thoroughly examine:

    A) why and how we so poorly maintain, design, develop, and construct infrastructure & buildings such that we are creating an unsafe future, even if we consider only today’s climate and other foreseeable natural processes. Our dismal record of development decisions will create havoc when one begins to consider of how and where we develop and redevelop including consideration of our changing (or at least very uncertain) climate future.

    B) how we manage the federal funding of both pre disaster development and agricultural activities (think about tax subsidies, federal appropriated funding of buildings, and infrastructure);

    C) how we prepare for, fund and manage recovery from disasters, largely created by currently ongoing and past poor human development and redevelopment decisions which ignore foreseeable natural processes (also known as natural hazards).

    As a Nation, we are building the future every day: one decision to build or preserve as natural space areas subject to natural hazards, one cubic yard of fill at a time, one building at a time, and one road at a time. We have a choice: we can do proper planning as to where and how to construct our human environment, build safely and properly so as to not exacerbate existing problems caused by improper construction and development; or we can continue to do business as usual and build an unsustainable future of misery, waste and needless destruction. Right now we are clearly on the path of mounting losses from foreseeable natural events.

    We may never have had a greater opportunity to seriously consider how to reduce the mounting toll which follows foreseeable natural events. The passion and energy of the many people who believe in the reality of climate change brings an entire new breath of oxygen into conversations about what sort of future we will build for the next generations. The Cato White Paper also provides an enormous opportunity to have a serious discussion about why disaster suffering, misery, loss of life and property losses are continuing to escalate wildly.

    Safe Development, proper Floodplain Management, Climate Adaptation and Natural Hazard Mitigation are all too often thought of as a zero sum situation: one side wins and one side loses. One person or group externalizes the costs of their actions to others while reaping a bonanza. Developing a Resilient society requires a win–win “Whole Community “approach based on sound economic principles so that communities, folks who would otherwise be disaster victims, developers, and sound natural hazard risk mitigation all win. Such solutions have the advantage of being based on sound economics, law, ethics, and environmental sustainability.

    We must transform the current development and redevelopment mind-set. Implementing the needed solutions will require a different way of doing business than community development practices in general use in the United States. We must seize every opportunity including the Cato White Paper, to call for study, research and action which will promote wise choices for safe and resilient development. Such a message must be inserted into all conversations about disaster losses, climate change, climate uncertainty, housing, community development, planning.

    We must also recognize that those of us who care about reducing the mounting toll of disasters have a huge sales job to the many powerful and influential decision makers, many of whom absolutely do not believe in climate change. Yet these same people usually passionately love this Nation, cherish our Constitution & way of life and wish to build a resilient future for future generations. Our sales message of public safety & safe and resilient development and redevelopment must be delivered in an apolitical manner, crafted in a different manner to reach the hopes, fears, desires, and dreams of the various audiences which comprise our “Whole Community.”

    The Natural Hazard Mitigation Association is currently working on a Project to develop an educational curriculum which will help promote careful consideration of natural hazards in the “Whole Community” decision-making process. Further information on this NHMA project will be soon posted on the NHMA website,

    • Ed: Thanks very much for taking the time to provide your thoughtful comments.
      Lately in Washington, DC it seems that all or nothing seem are the main options, when there should be discussion, compromise, and forward movement!

  3. It would be interesting if the author pursued his analysis of the NFIP. There’s a lot of data to crunch there. I do wonder what he means by “privatizing flood insurance” – if it means so called market rates, is it OK if no one gets insured and then if there is some government relief after? Or does he have a different system in mind?

    And even from a libertarian point of view, the article underplays the role of civil defense in making disaster management a federal government activity.

  4. It would be interesting if the author pursued his analysis of the NFIP. There’s a lot of data to crunch there. I do wonder what he means by “privatizing flood insurance” – if it means so called market rates, is it OK if no one gets insured and then if there is some government relief after? Or does he have a different system in mind?

  5. I got as far as the third paragraph, which said, “FEMA’s dismal response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005 dramatized the agency’s bureaucratic dysfunction.” Absolutely untrue. I was there at FEMA during the Katrina fiasco, and I observed that the “dismal response” at the Federal level was due mainly to four factors: (1) FEMA’s political leadership under Bush had no experience in emergency management; (2) FEMA’s budget for planning and preparedness had been drastically cut; (3) Disaster response planning had been handed over to a private contractor; and (4) Homeland Security, not FEMA, was actually in charge during the Katrina response. Speaking as objectively as possible, and with all due respect to the author, this article seems to be just more trash from the anti-government right-wingers. Tea, anyone?

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