Mikulski seeking review of policy on disaster relief

September 03, 1992|By Tom Bowman | Tom Bowman,Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- Saying that the people of Florida have been "victimized twice," first by a killer hurricane and then by a slow federal government, Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski is calling for an overhaul of federal disaster relief policy.

Ms. Mikulski, chairwoman of the Senate spending subcommittee that oversees the beleaguered Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), will ask for a study of the government's disaster policy that will serve as a blueprint for legislation next year.

"The human tragedy is truly intolerable, because the people of South Florida have been victimized twice," the Maryland Democrat said in a statement, noting that the hurricane could not have been controlled.

"But the second time we could have prevented, because it came at the hands of their own government, headed by a slow-moving bureaucracy at FEMA," she said.

Ms. Mikulski scheduled a news conference for today to ask the General Accounting Office, Congress' watchdog agency, to undertake the review.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency, which is responsible for coordinating disaster relief, has been sharply criticized by Florida officials for its slow response to the Hurricane Andrew, which slammed into Florida and Louisiana. A House report completed in July termed the agency a poorly run "dumping ground" for political appointments.

"We have had too many hearings after recent disasters, with FEMA confessing to many 'lessons learned,' while in reality it appears they have learned nothing," Ms. Mikulski said in her statement.

The General Accounting Office will be asked to look into the entire organization of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, how it spends its money and allocates resources "and whether or not we should end the 13-year life" of the agency, Ms. Mikulski said.

Spokesman Tony Venti said the agency would have no comment before Ms. Mikulski's news conference on her request for a review. He disputed charges of a delay in responding to the hurricane. "We were there before the storm struck," he said.

Ms. Mikulski said she would ask the General Accounting Office to attempt to remove bottlenecks to disaster relief by devising a chain of command that will coordinate all government and private relief efforts.

And the office will be asked to determine the role of the Defense Department and other federal agencies, perhaps giving the Pentagon control over large-scale disasters, given its training in moving large numbers of personnel and equipment.

"It is time for the doctrine of flexible response, based on a real risk-based strategy, to become the cornerstone of federal disaster relief," said Ms. Mikulski.

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