Hillary Says FEMA Should Be Set Free

After Katrina: Senator Clinton Calls for Moving Disaster Agency Out of Homeland Security

Senator Hillary Clinton, fresh from a recent trip to Houston to speak with survivors of Hurricane Katrina, held a conference call with reporters today to discuss legislation that she’s introducing this afternoon. The first bill would restore the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, to a Cabinet-level, independent federal agency, as it existed during her husband’s administration. The second bill would create an independent commission to investigate the handling of relief efforts. Here are some outtakes from the senator’s conference call:

"I went to Houston yesterday with my husband and I spent time talking with many of the people there in three facilities—the Astrodome, Reliant Center, and Reliant Arena. I listened to stories they told me about what had happened to them in the previous week. This is a tremendous tragedy with devastating consequences for individuals in the region. But it’s also a failure of our government to tend to the needs of people at risk, first, because of the hurricane and then because of the flooding. I’ve heard too many stories of people who were turned away from where they thought would be a good place to go, too many stories of the chaos in the Superdome, too many stories of people being separated from their loved ones…. And it is a terrible commentary on what has happened over the last days, but it’s also a call to action."

"FEMA was the lead agency during the Clinton administration; it was in charge. James Lee Witt, the director, understood how to deal with emergencies. In addition, FEMA took on the role of helping to prepare localities and states to be in a position to respond. They knew what was expected of them—helping localities do what they needed to do to mitigate damage. That philosophy governed FEMA during the Clinton administration. It was obviously rejected by this administration. We don’t know all the reasons why. We’ve had massive failures but, certainly, there was nobody in charge and nobody willing to take the responsibility to work with local and state officials. This was a massive disaster but there were certainly enough warnings and enough people who had given warnings to the government before. So I believe we owe the people better and more than that, I believe more Americans would want more than that."

"It’s hard to untangle all the causes for the problems. Cutting back on funding, cutting personnel, subsuming FEMA under the Homeland Security Department, not having leadership at FEMA to fulfill its responsibilities—all of that will have to be thoroughly investigated. There were a lot of reasons for the failures that we saw manifest themselves. I certainly think there needs to be some accountability."

"I think there should be an independent commission. I don’t believe the government should investigate itself and . . . I have no confidence in this government investigating itself. We need to be focused on helping these people. The thousands of people who I talked to have no idea where they’re going to go next . . . . That’s what we should worry about. So I want an independent commission to investigate because I don’t believe it’s appropriate for this government to investigate itself and because I think we should focus on recovery efforts. We should do it now, though. We should pass this legislation, get it signed, get [the commission] appointed."
 
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