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Is FEMA Overextended? Two Viewpoints

FEMA needs a division called “Other Duties as Assigned.”

by Eric Holdeman / April 3, 2021

As I’ve written about previously in this blog, the first call for help in coordination of federal, state and local activities is often going to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). See this NPR piece: “Not The Government’s ‘911’: FEMA Stretched With Multiple Deployments.”

Two previous FEMA administrators are quoted in the article. One is Brock Long, who agrees with the idea that the agency has been overextended since 2017 and the series of hurricanes that hit the southern coasts of the United States.

Then there is Craig Fugate, who has an alternative view. He thinks you can “kick the disaster recovery can” down the road and redeploy FEMA staff from one disaster to another when there is a need and postpone action on the previous event and come back to it later. 

On this matter, I’m with Brock Long. For the number of missions and size of the disasters that FEMA is dealing with, and will be expected to deal with as climate change impacts kick in, they need more staff. 

I can’t remember where I wrote this recently, but FEMA needs a completely new set of staff set up in a new division called “Other Duties as Assigned.” This would be where helping with Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), mass vaccination sites and, more recently, the re-settlement of minors crossing the Southern Border would fall. 

This the cross-emergency managers have to bear. When you get good at coordination and are known for excellence, you will be called in to help with many more different types of issues that go beyond the traditional emergency management areas of responsibility. 

As we look at calls for the Capitol Police to have hundreds more officers, typically you don’t get that type of surge in staffing until there is a failure. Let’s hope that Congress doesn’t wait for FEMA to have such a failure before they realize FEMA needs more staffing and other resources. 

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