Bipartisan legislation proposes establishing FEMA as cabinet-level federal agency

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) could, as a whole, be up for a major promotion under the FEMA Independence Act of 2023 – a proposal to raise the agency to a cabinet-level position.

According to its authors – U.S. Reps. Garret Graves (R-LA) and Jared Moskowitz (D-FL) – the agency is currently hampered by bureaucracy within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) that oversees it. This, they said, limits FEMA’s ability to respond to disasters. By setting FEMA out on its own two feet at the highest level of federal agency jurisdiction, they argued that FEMA’s ability to prepare, respond and recover would be improved significantly.

“As the first Emergency Management Director ever elected to Congress, I have seen firsthand the challenges faced when responding to emergencies, recovering from them, and mitigating their impacts,” Moskowitz said. “That is why with my colleague Congressman Graves we have introduced legislation that will remove FEMA from DHS, returning it to being an independent federal agency — as it was originally intended. FEMA should not be 1 of 20 departments within DHS. There is no doubt that in the future FEMA will be busier than ever before and this move will help cut unnecessary red tape and make FEMA quicker.”

FEMA was originally more independent when created by executive order from former President Jimmy Carter in 1979, and that authority grew under former President Bill Clinton, who elevated FEMA to Cabinet-level status, but it was enveloped by DHS when former President George W. Bush created that department in 2003. Today, more than 20 agencies operate under the DHS umbrella, meaning that FEMA’s concerns get balanced among numerous others’.

“When a disaster threatens, we need action not bureaucracy,” Graves said. “Having FEMA buried within the Department of Homeland Security only contributes to delays, lack of action, and do-loops. This experiment of putting FEMA under the Secretary of Homeland Security has failed. They can’t even handle the border. Americans deserve better. Louisianians deserve a FEMA that responds with the same urgency that they feel after a disaster.”

As a cabinet-level agency, notably the FEMA director would need to be appointed by the president, but approved by the Senate. FEMA would be organized with 10 regional offices, although its duties would remain much the same.

Chris Galford

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