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Context of 'February 27, 2001: White House Proposes Drastic Cuts for Federal Disaster Mitigation Programs'

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The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is established to oversee federal planning for natural disasters, nuclear accidents, terrorist attacks, and other potential emergencies. The Carter Administration sought the creation of FEMA after the nation’s emergency response plans came under strong criticism for being disorganized and spread across numerous bureaucratic agencies. Pursuant to Reorganization Plan No. 3 of 1978 and Executive Order 12127, FEMA will now consolidate several disaster and emergency preparedness agencies into a single agency within the executive branch. FEMA will incorporate the Defense Civil Preparedness Agency, the Federal Preparedness Agency, the Federal Insurance Administration, the Federal Disaster Assistance Administration, the National Fire Prevention and Control Administration, the National Fire Academy, and the Community Preparedness Program. It will also take over several programs formally run out of the Executive Office of the President, including those pertaining to earthquake preparedness, management of terrorist attacks, dam safety, and the nation’s emergency warning and broadcasting systems. [United Press International, 5/9/1977; Message of the President, 6/19/1978; President Jimmy Carter, 3/31/1979; B. Wayne Blanchard, 2/5/2008, pp. 23-24]

Entity Tags: Federal Preparedness Agency, Defense Civil Preparedness Agency, Federal Emergency Management Agency

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

FEMA director James Lee Witt announces Project Impact, under which FEMA will foster partnerships between federal, state, and local emergency workers, as well as local businesses, to help individual communities reduce their vulnerability to certain types of natural disasters. Describing the new initiative, FEMA Director James Lee Witt says, “Our goal, starting with this summit, is to change the way America prevents and prepares for disasters. We’ve got to break the damage-repair-damage-repair cycle.” Project Impact is part of a broader mitigation program aimed at reducing the $14 billion in federal dollars spent annually on disaster relief. Witt says that prevention is necessary because of the apparent increased severity and frequency of natural disasters. [San Francisco Chronicle, 10/15/1997; Independent Weekly, 9/22/2004] Project Impact becomes the agency’s highest profile program. “In Seattle, Washington, for example, the grants [are] used to retrofit schools, bridges, and houses at risk from earthquakes. In Pascagoula, Mississippi, the project [funds] the creation of a database of structures in the local flood plain—crucial information for preparing mitigation plans. In several eastern North Carolina communities, it [helps] fund and coordinate buyouts of houses in flood-prone areas.” [Independent Weekly, 9/22/2004]

Entity Tags: James Lee Witt, Federal Emergency Management Agency, Project Impact

Timeline Tags: Hurricane Katrina

After Congress approves the Bush administration’s proposal to terminate Project Impact (see October 14, 1997-2001), FEMA institutes a new program under which pre-disaster mitigation (PDMs) grants are awarded on a competitive basis. Critics, such as the National Emergency Management Association (NEMA), say that under the competitive based program, lower income communities will not be able to effectively compete with higher income areas. [Independent Weekly, 9/22/2004]

Entity Tags: Federal Emergency Management Agency, Project Impact, Bush administration (43)

Timeline Tags: Hurricane Katrina

The Bush administration’s proposed fiscal year 2002 budget includes a dramatic cut in federal funding for hazard mitigation grants, reducing the federal-state cost-sharing formula from 75/25 to 50/50. Mitigation grants allow localities to prepare for anticipated disasters by building levees and floodwalls, moving homes out of flood plains, and/or strengthening structures at risk from floods, earthquakes or other natural disasters. The Bush administration asserts that by making states pay more, they will spend the funds more wisely. “Shouldering a larger share of the costs will help to ensure that states select truly cost effective projects, an incentive that is missing if most of the funding is provided by FEMA,” the budget proposal reads. The proposed budget also eliminates FEMA’s Project Impact, the popular $25 million model mitigation program implemented during the Clinton administration in 1997 (see October 14, 1997-2001). Bush officials say the project, which has been launched in 250 cities and towns, “has not proven effective.” Additionally, the Bush administration proposes to eliminate $12 million from the National Flood Insurance Program budget by $12 million by denying coverage for thousands of “repetitive loss” properties in flood plains. [Office of Management and Budget, 2/27/2001, pp. 81 pdf file; Washington Post, 5/8/2001] A repetitive loss property is one that has suffered flood damage two or more times over a 10-year period and for which repair costs exceed more than 25 percent of its market value. [FEMA, 10/22/2004] White House spokesman Scott Stanzel explains that proposed cuts to these and other federal emergency management programs are part of “an ongoing effort to shift control and responsibility to the states and give them more flexibility.” [Washington Post, 5/8/2001] Jack Harrald, director of the Institute for Crisis, Disaster and Risk Management at George Washington University, says in an interview with the Washington Post that Bush administration officials “clearly are disassociating themselves from programs closely identified with the previous administration. Whether a broader philosophical process is going on is not entirely clear yet, but I suspect it is.” [Washington Post, 5/8/2001] Congress will reject the administration’s proposal to reduce the 75/50 cost-sharing formula, but agree to end Project Impact. [Independent Weekly, 9/22/2004]

Entity Tags: Scott Stanzel, Jack Harrald, Federal Emergency Management Agency, Bush administration (43), Project Impact

Timeline Tags: Hurricane Katrina

The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) submits written testimony to Congress, recommending that it reject certain budget cuts proposed by the Bush administration for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and FEMA. The administration’s proposed $3.3 billion budget for drinking-water and wastewater infrastructure is “totally inadequate,” according to the ASCE. Over the next 20 years, America’s water and wastewater systems need to increase funding by an annual $23 billion, just to meet the existing national environmental and public health priorities in the Clean Water Act and Safe Drinking Water Act and to replace aging and failing infrastructure, the ASCE reports, noting that in it’s recently released 2001 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure, “the drinking water and wastewater categories each received a grade of D.” The ASCE also tells Congress to reject the Bush administration’s proposal to eliminate Project Impact, a $25 million model mitigation program created by the Clinton administration in 1997 (see February 27, 2001) (see October 14, 1997-2001). “Project Impact is a nationwide public-private partnership designed to help communities become more disaster resistant. These types of natural hazard mitigation efforts are precisely what Congress should be funding, in an effort to avoid paying the much higher price after a tornado, earthquake or hurricane hits a local community. ASCE recommends that Congress fully fund Project Impact at the fiscal year 2001 appropriated level of $25 million.” [American Society of Civil Engineers, 3/21/2001 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Federal Emergency Management Agency, American Society of Civil Engineers, Environmental Protection Agency, Bush administration (43), Project Impact

Timeline Tags: Hurricane Katrina

FEMA Director Joe M. Allbaugh appears before Congress to discuss his agency’s goals and priorities for fiscal year 2002. A chief priority is to reduce the federal government’s role in disaster mitigation and prevention, which, he asserts is “inherently grassroots.” He explains: “These activities involve local decision-making about zoning, building codes, and strategy planning to meet a community’s unique needs. It is not the role of the federal government to tell a community what it needs to do to protect its citizens and infrastructure.… At the same time we are giving more control to state and local governments through the Managing State concept of the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program and other initiatives, we are asking that they take a more appropriate degree of fiscal responsibility to protect themselves. The original intent of federal disaster assistance is to supplement state and local response efforts. Many are concerned that federal disaster assistance may have evolved into both an oversized entitlement program and a disincentive to effective state and local risk management. Expectations of when the federal government should be involved and the degree of involvement may have ballooned beyond what is an appropriate level. We must restore the predominant role of state and local response to most disasters. Federal assistance needs to supplement, not supplant, state and local efforts.… FEMA is looking at ways to develop meaningful and objective criteria for disaster declarations that can be applied consistently. These criteria will not preclude the president’s discretion but will help states better understand when they can reasonably turn to the federal government for assistance and when it would be more appropriate for the state to handle the disaster itself.” Allbaugh also discusses how FEMA will bring Bush’s compassionate conservatism to disaster survivors. “President Bush’s compassionate conservatism is a hallmark of his core philosophy,” Allbaugh states. “The president is promoting faith-based organizations as a way to achieve compassionate conservatism. Not only does FEMA work with… faith-based organizations…, but FEMA’s Emergency Food and Shelter Program is the original faith-based initiative and is a perfect fit with President Bush’s new approach to helping the poor, homeless and disadvantaged. Through this program, FEMA works with organizations that are based in the communities where people need help the most.” [Federal Emergency Management Agency, 5/16/2001; Independent Weekly, 9/22/2004]

Entity Tags: Hazard Mitigation Grant Program, Federal Emergency Management Agency, George W. Bush, Joseph M. Allbaugh

Timeline Tags: Hurricane Katrina

John Magaw.John Magaw. [Source: Public domain]About a week before 9/11, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Director Joe Allbaugh replaces the agency’s acting deputy director, John Magaw, a veteran federal law enforcement agent and experienced counterterrorism official, with Michael Brown, a close friend of his and a long-time political associate with no previous experience in emergency management. [Baker, 2009, pp. 484] Magaw is a former director of the US Secret Service and of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF). In December 1999, Magaw was appointed at FEMA to coordinate the agency’s domestic terrorism efforts. [Market Wire, 12/1999] Allbaugh nominated Michael Brown as the agency’s general counsel upon taking office in January. Brown previously worked as a lawyer for a horse racing association. He has no experience in disaster management (See March 1, 2003). According to Russ Baker, an independent investigative journalist and author of Family of Secrets, a Bush family expose: “One day, Mr. Allbaugh came in and said, ‘I know you’ve got these other things to do. I’m going to ask Mr. Brown to be deputy,’ recalled Magaw who promptly returned to the subordinate position assigned him by Clinton. The timing was remarkable. Just a week before September 11, 2001, Allbaugh replaced a key anti-terrorism official with a crony who had close to zero relevant experience.” [Baker, 2009, pp. 484]

Entity Tags: Joseph M. Allbaugh, Federal Emergency Management Agency, Michael D. Brown, John W. Magaw

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Michael D. Brown, an Oklahoma lawyer, replaces Joseph Allbaugh as Director of FEMA. Brown, who was Allbaugh’s college roommate, joined the Bush administration in 2001 as FEMA’s general counsel at Allbaugh’s invitation. [Knight Ridder, 9/3/2005; Boston Herald, 9/3/2005; New York Times, 9/7/2005] Upon Brown’s appointment, Allbaugh says, “The president couldn’t have chosen a better man to help… prepare and protect the nation.” However, prior to joining the Bush administration, Brown apparently had little prior experience in disaster relief or prevention. From 1991 to January 2001, Brown worked as the commissioner of judges and stewards of the International Arabian Horse Association, earning about $100,000 per year. In this role, Brown was charged with ensuring that horse-show judges followed the rules and investigating any allegations of cheating. He was asked to resign in 2001 after accepting donations to a personal legal defense fund. [Boston Herald, 9/3/2005; New York Times, 9/7/2005]

Entity Tags: Michael D. Brown, Federal Emergency Management Agency

Timeline Tags: Hurricane Katrina

The Bush administration’s fiscal year 2006 budget request includes a six percent reduction in funding for Emergency Management Performance Grants. The cut would reduce the $180 million appropriated by Congress in 2005 to $170 million in 2006. “The grants are the lifeblood for local programs and, in some cases, it’s the difference between having a program in a county and not,” says Dewayne West, the director of Emergency Services for Johnston County, North Carolina, and president of the International Association of Emergency Managers. “It’s awfully difficult. More money is needed.” The White House however insists it is unfair to say Bush’s budget for the performance grants are a “cut,” because it was Congress, not the White House, that had increased the program’s budget in 2005 to $180 million. [Reuters, 9/17/2005]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Dewayne West

Timeline Tags: Hurricane Katrina

Boeing is awarded a contract to upgrade the fleet of four E-4B National Airborne Operations Center planes over the next five years. The E-4B is a modified Boeing 747 crammed with electronics to serve as a flying command post in war or during an emergency. The contract is capped at $2 billion, but it is unclear why so much money is needed to modernize such a small number of aircraft. [Defense Industry Daily, 12/27/2005] An E-4B was seen over Washington, DC on 9/11 (see Early September 2001).

Entity Tags: Boeing Company, E-4B National Airborne Operations Center, US Department of Defense

Timeline Tags: US Military

Congress, stung into action by the Bush administration’s poor response to Hurricane Katrina and particularly the ineptitude of Michael Brown, the former director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA—see Early September 2001), passes a law saying that President Bush must nominate a replacement who has “a demonstrated ability in and knowledge of emergency management,” and “not less than five years of executive leadership.” In a signing statement, Bush says that only he, the head of the executive branch, can decide who to appoint to offices. Therefore, he states, he is ignoring the prohibition. [Savage, 2007, pp. 239-240]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), George W. Bush, Federal Emergency Management Agency

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

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