- The Washington Times - Monday, May 8, 2006

Senior House Republicans today will announce a proposal to move the Federal Emergency Management Agency out of the Department of Homeland Security, restoring it to the independent, Cabinet-level status it had before it was merged into the new department.

With hurricane season looming, the proposal sets the stage for a three-way battle with the Senate — where lawmakers are pushing a rival plan to break up the agency and reformulate its functions within the huge department — and with the administration and its supporters on the House Committee on Homeland Security, who oppose moving FEMA.

The effort is led by Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, Virginia Republican, who is chairman of the House Government Reform Committee. In a column published yesterday in The Washington Times, Mr. Davis called it a “mistake” to have made FEMA part of Homeland Security.

Mr. Davis’ committee probed the federal response to Hurricane Katrina. He will join both Democrats and Republicans from the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee to announce the reform package today.

The top members of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee — Reps. Don Young, Alaska Republican, and James L. Oberstar, Minnesota Democrat — have long supported removing FEMA from Homeland Security, as does Rep. Bill Shuster, Pennsylvania Republican and chairman of the economic development, public buildings and emergency management subcommittee.

Evidence amassed during an investigation of the federal response to Hurricane Katrina convinced Mr. Davis “that there is a compelling case the agency would be better off as a truly independent entity, with a Cabinet-level director who has the ear of the president and can mobilize the entire resources of the federal government with a single phone call,” Davis spokesman Robert White said.

However, Mr. Davis said reorganization should not begin until after this year’s hurricane season. “It would be detrimental [for FEMA] to have to go through a reorganization in the middle of hurricane season,” Mr. White said.

By contrast, a staffer on the House Homeland Security Committee said provisions in that panel’s bill, which, “if it was passed into law [before the congressional recess at the end of May,] could be put in place before the hurricane season.”

The staffer said the committee hoped to mark up the bill either this week or next, so that it could get to the floor — if the leadership finds time — before the May recess.

That bill, sponsored by committee Chairman Peter T. King, New York Republican, would restructure FEMA as a new “Directorate of Emergency Management” within the department and would combine the agency with Homeland Security’s Directorate of Preparedness.

Echoing the proposal of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, the King bill also would promote the head of FEMA to an undersecretary position from the current place as assistant secretary.

Mr. Davis criticized that proposal, calling it “a clumsy attempt to straddle the fundamental issue” of whether the agency should be inside the department or independent.

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