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Tuesday, April 16th, 2024

Senate advances legislation to streamline support, improve response amid disasters

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The Senate recently advanced legislation from U.S. Sens. Gary Peters (D-MI) and John Kennedy (R-LA) that seeks to improve the situation facing disaster survivors by reforming the federal support system and the efficacy of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

Under the Helping Eliminate Limitations for Prompt Response and Recovery Act, a section of the Post-Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act of 2006 (PKEMRA) that limits the duration of non-competitive emergency contracts for DHS would be repealed. Currently, these limitations afflict only DHS – including the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) – while other agencies follow more recent updates to the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR).

Changes now would allow more efficient disaster aid to communities in need, its authors argued.

“The federal government should have every tool available in order to help survivors of disasters get back on their feet,” Peters said. “This bill will allow the Department of Homeland Security to respond to emergencies and natural disasters quickly and more effectively by streamlining the process to help disaster survivors recover and put their lives back together after tragedy strikes.”

Specifically, the bill targets PKEMRA’s section 695. That section restricts the length of non-competitive DHS contracts for urgent and compelling requirements to 150 days. Meanwhile, after FAR’s updates, other agencies are limited to one year.

“This bill will modernize contracting requirements for DHS and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and align them with the less restrictive requirements applied to all other government agencies,” Russ Strickland, National Emergency Management Association (NEMA) president and Secretary of Maryland Department of Emergency Management, said. “Especially when responding to disasters, speed is of the essence, so it is imperative to give FEMA the tools necessary to be efficient and responsive when needed most.”

Consistency in government is the senators’ goal. In addition to NEMA, the bill was also backed by the International Association of Emergency Managers and the Disaster Recovery Coalition of America.

The bill now heads to the House of Representatives.