WASHINGTON—The FEMA headquarters union of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) today called for Congress to re-establish FEMA as a separate agency. FEMA currently is part of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The agency was placed under DHS in 2001 following 9/11.
The union local made the recommendation in response to today’s Senate testimony by DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff and the release of a House Republican report that criticizes the secretary for delays and misjudgments following the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
“Successful emergency management relies upon experience and expertise. Over the past three years, the value of expertise and experience has been downgraded and dismissed by top FEMA officials. FEMA is hemorrhaging capable staff who served the American people for years. In some instances vacancies have not been filled, while in other cases inexperienced individuals lacking any relevant experience have been hired into critical emergency management roles,” said Leo Bosner, president of AFGE Local 4060.
Calling for the restoration of FEMA’s emergency management capabilities, the AFGE FEMA headquarters union recommends the following:
1. Involve veteran employees in plans to retool FEMA plans and other initiatives. Experienced FEMA employees should rewrite the National Response Plan, not politically connected contractors.
2. Appoint top emergency management experts to leadership positions, starting with the FEMA Director.
3. Fill vacancies with individuals who have the right experience and expertise, promoting from within FEMA wherever possible.
4. Reinstitute ongoing emergency management training for FEMA staff.
5. Reestablish FEMA as an independent agency with the power to fulfill its mission once again.
“Despite significant staff attrition and brain drain, the reality is that FEMA employees fulfilled their responsibilities to the American people in the days leading up to and following Hurricane Katrina. They collected information and sent reports to the leadership of FEMA and DHS. The problem is that the federal leaders, who had the authority to take action that would have minimized suffering and loss of life, did not listen,” said AFGE National President John Gage.
The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) is the largest federal employee union, representing 600,000 workers in the federal government and the government of the District of Columbia.