"We will retool FEMA, maybe even radically, to increase our ability to deal with catastrophic events," he said in a speech at George Washington University.
Mr. Chertoff offered no specifics for changing FEMA, but said agency employees must be given authority to cut through bureaucracy to assist disaster victims quickly.
His aides said changes would come early next year. It was unclear whether any of the changes would require legislative action or if Mr. Chertoff would move before Congress returned to Washington in late January. A special House inquiry of the government's response to Hurricane Katrina, led by Representative Thomas M. Davis III, Republican of Virginia, is expected to issue its findings by Feb. 15.
Additionally, the White House is completing its own review of federal preparations and response to Hurricane Katrina. Dana Perino, a White House spokeswoman, said that "certainly, some of the recommendations will be related to FEMA."
Chertoff seeks end of failed policies
By Audrey Hudson
THE WASHINGTON TIMES
Published December 21, 2005
Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said yesterday that decades of immigration missteps must end and that illegal aliens now are returned quickly to their native countries instead of being detained for long periods.
"Let's not kid ourselves; we've been digging ourselves into this hole for over 20 years," Mr. Chertoff said.
"Right now we're facing a huge challenge at the border with illegal migration. We can't afford to turn away from it, and we can't afford simply to use techniques that haven't worked."
Returning illegal aliens quickly to their native countries rather than detaining them for months will change their mind-set that U.S. laws can be skirted easily, Mr. Chertoff said.
"The president's made it very clear that has to be our mission: securing the border and addressing illegal migration. They will come to realize that when they cross the border illegally, they will be caught and sent home again."
Mr. Chertoff said more than 1 million foreigners have been caught entering the country illegally at the border and that immigration agents arrested 1,600 gang suspects and helped convict 1,300 human traffickers and 5,700 human smugglers this year.
The secretary presented his address on this year's accomplishments and future challenges before an audience at George Washington University.
"I don't think it's a revelation for me to say that for the Department of Homeland Security, 2005 was a year of change and challenge," said Mr. Chertoff, noting the "unprecedented and devastating hurricanes that stretched our existing capabilities beyond the breaking point."
He cited the bravery of Coast Guard teams that rescued 33,000 people from floodwaters after deadly hurricanes, but acknowledged government failure in key areas such as preparedness.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency "faces tough times" and will be "radically retooled" to deal with catastrophic events, he said.
He defended his agency's decision to allow certain small tools and scissors aboard aircraft even though the September 11 hijackers took control of the planes with box cutters. All airplanes have reinforced cockpit doors, and thousands are protected by federal air marshals and armed pilots.
Homeland Security Department officials re-evaluate policies constantly to avoid "mission creep" and to help ease the burden of travel, Mr. Chertoff said.
"I'm not going to lay the heavy hand of the government on, just to lay on the heavy hand of the government," he said.
DHS chief: Major changes to FEMA coming soon
By Chris Strohm
Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said Tuesday that "very significant and far-reaching changes" to the Federal Emergency Management Agency will be announced within weeks.
The changes are a result of internal reviews of how FEMA handled hurricanes Katrina and Rita. They are designed to strengthen the agency's logistics systems and make Homeland Security Department leaders more aware of conditions on the ground in areas affected by disasters, Chertoff said.
"Our effort is going to be designed to empower the men and women of FEMA to act with efficient urgency to cut some of the bureaucracy out, and to let them do their job where it's most needed, as quickly as possible," Chertoff said during a speech in Washington. His speech addressed the department's challenges and accomplishments in 2005, and expectations for 2006.
"We don't want to stifle the people in the field with unnecessary bureaucratic process and procedure," Chertoff said. "We want to make sure we have accountability. We want to be responsible stewards of the public funds. But we want to make sure we can act quickly to save lives and address people's anxieties and concerns on the spot as quickly as possible and as thoroughly as possible."
FEMA has borne the brunt of criticism of how the federal government prepared for and responded to the Gulf Coast hurricanes and the flooding of New Orleans. Two congressional panels are investigating how all levels of government handled the disaster. Several lawmakers have called for returning FEMA to a Cabinet-level agency, which it was before it was rolled into DHS in 2003.
The White House also is completing its own internal review of how the disasters were handled.
"Out of this challenge and out of this adversity, we will rebuild and we will retool FEMA--maybe even radically--to increase our ability to deal with catastrophic events," Chertoff said.
He also defended the actions of FEMA personnel, saying, "It's not pleasant to see FEMA [be] the butt of jokes or the butt of criticism even now months after the hurricanes.
"Despite the heroic efforts of many FEMA employees, this agency continues to face enormous criticism," Chertoff said. "So I want to be very clear about something. To the men and women of FEMA, let me say this: 'This department supports you 100 percent. We acknowledge the extraordinary effort put in by FEMA employees who worked literally day and night to do what they could, sometimes with very inadequate tools in order to help people in who were in distress."
FEMA chief vows a better, faster disaster response under restructuring
By STEPHEN LOSEY
Plans to reorganize the Federal Emergency Management Agency will be unveiled within weeks, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said Dec. 20.
Chertoff did not offer specifics, but said reforms should let FEMA employees act faster to help others.
Chertoff said he wants to remove “unnecessary bureaucratic process and procedure” that he said stifles employees in the field. But guidelines that provide accountability and ensure the department is behaving responsibly will not be removed, he added.
“We want to make sure we can act quickly to save lives and address people’s anxieties and concerns on the spot, as quickly as possible and as fairly as possible,” Chertoff said.
FEMA was harshly criticized for its performance during Hurricane Katrina, which some say was slow and inadequate. Others say the blame should lie at the feet of Louisiana and New Orleans officials.
In a speech in Washington, Chertoff said the department supports FEMA employees and lauded them for their efforts during the storm and ensuing floods. He said many worked day and night and suffered with the evacuees.
“It’s not pleasant to see FEMA be made the butt of jokes or the butt of criticism, even now, months after the hurricanes,” Chertoff said. “This is an opportunity to dramatically retool it and make it better. Not because the people aren’t terrific, but we need to give the people the tools they’re entitled to, to carry out their mission.”
FEMA should be able to respond to catastrophic events as well as routine hurricanes, Chertoff said.
Improving FEMA’s logistics systems, giving department leaders better situational awareness, and improving customer service will be part of the plan, Chertoff said.
Strengthening those areas would address some of the problems for which FEMA was criticized during and after Hurricane Katrina.
For example, Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairwoman Susan Collins, R-Maine, said in a Nov. 9 hearing that senior FEMA officials forgot about 10 locked trucks containing food and water. It was up to the Coast Guard and Marine Corps to cut the locks off the trucks and distribute the supplies to evacuees at the Superdome, she said. Collins said William Lokey, who was in charge of coordinating FEMA’s logistics during Katrina, was unaware the trucks existed when her staff interviewed him as part of the committee’s investigation of the government’s response to the disaster.
Well into the crisis, former FEMA Director Michael Brown famously admitted in a CNN interview that he had just learned thousands of people were suffering in the New Orleans convention center. Internal FEMA e-mails later released by Congress showed senior agency officials had many misconceptions about what was going on in New Orleans.
And many evacuees have expressed anger at the way FEMA treated them. In November, FEMA’s plans to cut off money for hotel rooms for thousands of evacuees drew protests until the agency extended its deadlines to Jan. 7.
Chertoff: Overhaul of FEMA planned
By Julia Malone
Cox News Service
December 21, 2005
WASHINGTON -- Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said Tuesday that the administration will soon be making "far-reaching" changes at the embattled Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA.
At the end of a year that saw the emergency response agency overwhelmed by the catastrophic Hurricane Katrina, Chertoff said the Bush administration would soon complete its review of what went wrong in the fumbled response and announce a major overhaul.
Better logistics, better communications systems and fewer layers of bureaucracy will turn FEMA "into a 21st century organization," he said, adding that major reforms would be in place before the next hurricane season, which begins in June.
Chertoff also asserted that his department has begun to make headway in what has long been a losing battle to control U.S. borders.
"Let's not kid ourselves," Chertoff told an audience at George Washington University here. "We've been digging ourselves into this hole for over 20 years."
New coordination within the department, an additional 1,700 Border Patrol agents to be deployed next year on the Southwest border, greater use of sensors and unmanned aerial vehicles, and more detention space to hold illegal border crossers are all part of the new effort, Chertoff said.
In addition to the border, he said his department will continue its drive to target more federal resources and grants for areas with the highest risk of disasters or terrorist attacks.
Chertoff: FEMA improvements due soon
BY Michael Arnone
Published on Dec. 20, 2005
The Homeland Security Department will soon announce new measures to improve the operation and readiness of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff said today.
DHS will strengthen FEMA’s logistics and provide top managers with improved data and intelligence of situations in disaster areas, Chertoff said. FEMA will also improve customer service, he said.
The measures are part of DHS’ preparation for the 2006 hurricane season and for any possible attacks, Chertoff said. The changes will cut bureaucracy, allowing FEMA to work as quickly and effectively as possible, he said.
Chertoff reviewed some of DHS’ 2005 activities and shared a preview of its 2006 activities. He spoke at George Washington University in Washington, D.C.,
Three principles will drive DHS in 2006, Chertoff said. DHS’ components and partners will have to work together better and assign money and effort according to risk, he said. He noted that DHS will soon announce the first round of grants awarded according to a new risk-based formula.
DHS will also transform adversity into opportunity in 2006, Chertoff said. The devastation of Hurricane Katrina gives DHS the “opportunity to dramatically retool FEMA and make it better.”
Information technology played an important role in FEMA's 2005 successes and will continue to do so in 2006, Chertoff said. Other technologies also will be important next year.
One of DHS’ biggest successes in 2005 was implementing the biometric entry portion of the U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology program, which screens foreign travelers to find terrorists, Chertoff said.
The biometric entry features will be implemented at 115 airports, 14 seaports and 154 land border ports of entry by the end of the year, he said.
DHS’ Transportation Security Administration has changed its airline screening systems and enhanced its technology and training to detect explosives, Chertoff said.
TSA also helped DHS heed the warnings of mission creep, he said. The agency focused its databases on anti-terrorism and did not alter its operations to address requests to find parents who don’t pay child support fees or fugitives in drug cases, he said.
DHS will expand its partnerships with federal, state, local and private-sector partners, especially on catastrophe preparedness, Chertoff said. It will also expand its data sharing and cargo screening with international partners, he said.
The Secure Border Initiative, which protects the nation’s borders, started using unmanned aerial vehicles to improve surveillance of borders, Chertoff said.
'The Storm' looks FEMA directly in the eye, doesn't blink
'Frontline' asks tough questions about the embattled agency.
Sentinel Television Critic
November 22, 2005
Frontline makes Michael Brown squirm, and rarely does television provide more riveting rubber-necking.
Brown stumbles through his first full-length TV interview since resigning as director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency after Hurricane Katrina. He's the main lure in PBS' The Storm, airing at 9 tonight on WMFE-Channel 24.
He reveals that he wasn't leveling with the public during the New Orleans disaster. Although he praised Mayor Ray Nagin and Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco in news conferences, Brown says he actually thought they weren't doing their jobs.
"I'm not gonna say that publicly,'' Brown says. "I don't think that's the proper thing to do.''
In the long run, The Storm performs a crucial public service by recapping the agency's history and explaining concerns about its future. The report draws a fascinating parallel between FEMA's slow reaction to Hurricane Andrew in 1992 and its bungling on Katrina. Speakers stress that both Bush administrations filled the agency with political appointees who were inexperienced at emergency management.
Although the agency worked well after the 2001 terrorist attacks, several witnesses criticize the move to put it inside the mammoth Department of Homeland Security. "A well-run system was either on purpose or accidentally just being pulled apart and shredded,'' says Leo Bosner, a FEMA emergency specialist.
Tom Ridge, former secretary of homeland security, says FEMA wasn't hurt. A card at the program's end says Michael Chertoff, the current secretary, and the White House declined to be interviewed.
The Storm also raises alerts about the agency's future, noting that Chertoff plans more reductions. "Unless we take FEMA and give it its resources back and its stature back, we will see, unfortunately, another Katrina,'' says Jane Bullock, a former chief of staff at the agency.
In an era of uncertainty for TV journalism, Frontline remains hard-hitting and ambitious, the rare program that attempts to explain the big picture. The Storm represents another superlative achievement.