Political Animal


October 30, 2012 4:09 PM Mitt on Emergency Management: Status Quo Minus

By Ed Kilgore

So Mitt Romney’s crabwise retreat from his primary campaign suggestion of just dumping emergency management responsibilities on the states is this:

Asked Monday whether Romney held the same position he did at the June 2011 debate, Romney campaign spokeswoman Amanda Henneberg explained the candidate believes “states should be in charge of emergency management in responding to storms and other natural disasters in their jurisdictions.”
“As the first responders, states are in the best position to aid affected individuals and communities, and to direct resources and assistance to where they are needed most,” Henneberg said. “This includes help from the federal government and FEMA.”

Oh, okay: Mitt just wants states to have more control over emergency management, not to abolish federal assistance altogether, right?

Trouble is, that’s pretty much the way it is right now, under the Stafford Act, which gives states and localities most of the authority to determine when and how the feds get involved. So Mitt’s bold idea is current law. It’s kinda reminiscent of his pledge to make sure people with pre-existing conditions can obtain health insurance: he’s all for that to the extent that they can already get a chance to pay the employer share of premiums for an existing policy (great comfort to someone who’s just lost a job) or may qualify for crappy, expensive state “risk pool” policies.

So does that mean at least we won’t see an abandonment of current federal responsibility to make sure states and localities have the emergency management resources and coordination they often need? No, it doesn’t. As I mentioned yesterday (and Jonathan Chait underlines today), FEMA is one of those many federal government functions that the Romney/Ryan budget blueprints places in the most vulnerable, sure-to-get-hammered category, non-defense discretionary spending. Theoretically Republicans could single out emergency management as a higher priority than other items on this budgetary killing floor, but their prior attitudes don’t exactly make that likely.

And it’s not, BTW, just a matter of money. When Republicans do not consider a federal government responsibility particularly “legitimate,” they tend to do a very, very poor job in handling it, often using federal agencies as patronage operations. As Alan Wolfe pointed out in the Washington Monthly back in 2006, the Bush administration’s handling of Katrina was no aberration:

Upon assuming office, George W. Bush turned to former Texas campaign aide Joe Allbaugh to run FEMA and then shifted it into the new Department of Homeland Security (whose creation he had opposed). Allbaugh, and his hand-picked successor Michael Brown, like so many Bush appointees, were afflicted with what we might call “learned incompetence.” They did not fail merely out of ignorance and inexperience. Their ineptness, rather, was active rather than passive, the end result of a deliberate determination to prove that the federal government simply should not be in the business of disaster management. “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,” Allbaugh had testified before a Senate appropriations subcommittee in May, 2001. “Expectations of when the federal government should be involved and the degree of involvement may have ballooned beyond what is an appropriate level.” There was the conservative dilemma in a nutshell: a man put in charge of a mission in which he did not believe.

Allbaugh’s comments on emergency management sound a lot like Mitt’s, not only the first statement, but even the second. As in so many other areas, a Republican administration that can’t or won’t go to the trouble of getting rid of a given federal responsibility—or admitting they want to—will probably just treat it like a stepchild. So even when their formal position is “status quo,” it’s very likely going to be “status quo minus.”

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • SecularAnimist on October 30, 2012 4:18 PM:

    Another thing that the GOP in general, and the Ryan/Romney budget specifically, does not regard as "legitimate" is NOAA's weather satellites, which made the detailed forecasts and advanced warnings of Sandy's impacts possible.

    Without those satellites -- which are already at risk due to GOP-led funding cuts -- there would have been little or no warning, and little or no preparation for the impacts of the storm.

    And that includes FEMA's extensive advance preparations and coordination with both state authorities and the private sector for after-the-storm relief.

  • c u n d gulag on October 30, 2012 4:22 PM:

    They'll privatize emergency help to their corporate cronies.

    Then, when a disaster hits, the company salesmen can come in, and auction off a bottle of water for whatever the market will bear.
    Ditto food.

    So, instead of FEMA coming in, and the Red Cross, and distributing water and food, you'll have some corporation trying to maximize profits of the backs of devastated, thirsty, hungry, possibly homeless or sick people.

    I can see the companies sending their people out to the NJ Shore, NYC, and CT, to rake in money.

    These aren't real humans. These are sick, sociopathic animals - with my apologies to real animals, who don't know any better - humans should.


  • T-Rex on October 30, 2012 4:41 PM:

    So it's no surprise that "Heckuvajob" Brownie has criticized Obama for reacting too quickly to this disaster. No one could ever have accused him or his old boss of that.

  • BC on October 30, 2012 4:41 PM:

    Now, let's follow this Joe Allbaugh as he leaves his FEMA job and, based on his stellar performance as the FEMA Administrator, goes to Iraq to help clients evaluate and take advantage of business opportunities in the Middle East following the conclusion of the US-led war in Iraq and Diligence-Iraq, a security company providing protection for companies doing business there. Diligence, a company founded by former CIA and FBI chief William Webster and 40 percent owned by a wealthy Kuwaiti politician. Allbaugh is the co-chair of Diligence. Another fine example of a hack Republican making millions on the basis of his "public service."

  • boatboy_srq on October 30, 2012 4:43 PM:


    All these "private-sector does it better" types forget that the private sector only does one thing: make money (specifically, make money for its shareholders). Provide disaster relief at a loss? Fuhgeddaboudit. There's no contract that any private business would ever enter into that would provide that sort of service, because it just isn't cost-effective. Outsourcing to private non-profits, in turn, wouldn't work for long, because (as we've seen in healthcare with hospitals and clinics) non-profits can get bought by for-profits and their mandate changed by the new ownership, and deep-pocketed donors all too often turn vulture capitalist when a non-profit falls on shaky fiscal ground (why give to a charity when you can own it and make a profit from it?).

  • bigtuna on October 30, 2012 4:58 PM:

    Could we also point out that the data from the hardware was analized, and interpreted, by humans, who, gasp, have science degrees from real universities - you don't get a degree in meteorology from the university of Phoenix.

    The Ryan-Romney-Bush plan will reduce the amount of funding for everything outside of the military and debt service, meaning, research funding, high ed funding, etc etc etc.

    by they way, what is up with the bitch slap that Christie put on Romney?

  • T2 on October 30, 2012 5:13 PM:

    @bigtuna......remember, nobody likes Romney. But they are stuck with him...every once in a while one of them blurts out what they'd like to be saying all the time. Christie did seem pretty over the top with his Obama praise.....but in return, his state will get their mitts on the first pile of the hated Federal Disaster Money...the money the Republican/Tea Party want to eliminate from the budget.

  • schtick on October 30, 2012 5:58 PM:

    Why are you trying to confuse them with facts? You know they'll only double down on lies and misconceptions they are spewing.
    And I so love Willard giving up his campaign today to change the title just to have the same people spewing campaign crap and collecting....food? FOOD?
    OMG. OMG. Might as well be beer and cigarettes.

  • exlibra on October 30, 2012 10:28 PM:

    [...] the candidate believes “states should be in charge of emergency management in responding to storms and other natural disasters in their jurisdictions.”

    A part of that local response system is the National Guard. The reason they weren't there to respond, adequately, to Katrina, is because they had been sent to I-wreck, to help beef up Dumbya's little adventure on the cheap (with even poorer quality equipment than the "regular" military had). And the reason they wouldn't be available for local help in a natural disaster during Romney's rule is that they'd be learning Parsi in Iran, where he'd send them the first chance he got.

  • Kathryn on October 31, 2012 12:10 AM:

    I encourage all to watch the faces of the Fox and Friends hosts as Gov. Christie is praising Pres. Obama, their collective dog died apparently, such stricken sad faces. What a tableau, and then Christie disses Mitt when Doocey tries to insert him into the interview. It is hilarious, should be easy to find a replay tomorrow.

  • David on October 31, 2012 9:15 PM:

    When is the book on "privatization" going to come out? You know, the one that charts how massive amounts of federal money disappear into thin air without any accountability whenever "privatization" gets put into place.

    Privatization is just legal corruption. Bush and Cheney proved that in spades.