FEMA’s Priorities for 2020 and Beyond: Coordinating Mission and Vision

2167 Rayburn House Office Building

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0 Wednesday, March 11, 2020 @ 10:00 | Contact: Justin Harclerode 202-225-9446
This is a hearing of the Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings, and Emergency Management.

Witness List:

The Honorable Peter T. Gaynor, Administrator, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), U.S. Department of Homeland Security | Written Testimony

Opening remarks, as prepared, of Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Ranking Member Sam Graves (R-MO) and Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings, and Emergency Management Ranking Member John Katko (R-NY):

Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Ranking Member Sam Graves (R-MO):
I want to thank FEMA Administrator Gaynor for being here today.  I also want to thank the Administrator for meeting with me and other Members of the Committee.  Ensuring there is ongoing communication is helpful for members whose districts have been impacted by disasters.

FEMA has a lot on its plate with more than 640 open disasters, dating back to 2000.  With 2017 and 2018 being record years for disasters, we have to find innovative ways to speed up recovery and get people and communities back on their feet more quickly.  Otherwise, FEMA resources will continue to be stretched thin – slowing recovery even more.

Red tape and bureaucratic requirements that may have been intended to save taxpayer dollars may actually cost the taxpayer more.  When FEMA resources are spent to claw back a few thousand dollars from an individual – who applied for those funds in good faith and may have spent those funds to repair their home – it costs more to collect those funds and revictimizes the disaster victim.

That is why I introduced my bill, the Preventing Disaster Revictimization Act, to require FEMA to wave those debts for victims in instances where the agency was at fault.  And I appreciate that the Committee unanimously approved that bill last month.

But there are many other examples where current law and practice simply don’t make sense, increase costs, and slow recovery.  I hope to work with you, Administrator Gaynor and members of this Committee, on additional reforms to improve the process.

There is also a lot more in your portfolio – including preparedness and response.

I hope today we can also talk about FEMA’s unique role with respect to the Coronavirus.  While currently HHS is in the lead, should there need to be a declaration pursuant to the Stafford Act, by law, the Administrator would report and advise the President directly.  This requirement in law was a change after Hurricane Katrina to ensure the President is advised directly by the government’s emergency management expert.  While we hope such an emergency declaration is not needed, it is important that FEMA is at the table now so that should it be needed, there is a seamless transition to FEMA as the lead agency.

I want to thank Administrator Gaynor for being here today and look forward to his testimony.

Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings, and Emergency Management Ranking Member John Katko (R-NY):
I look forward to working with you, Chairwoman Titus, on critical issues of this Subcommittee as Ranking Member.  I know traditionally this Subcommittee has worked in a bipartisan fashion and I hope we can continue that tradition.

I want to welcome FEMA Administrator Gaynor and congratulate him on his confirmation in January.  I also want to thank him for visiting my district as acting administrator last year to survey the Lake Ontario flood damage.  The International Joint Commission’s Plan 2014 has caused high water levels along Lake Ontario resulting in devastating flooding in my district in New York.  While a presidential declaration was issued in 2017, there was no declaration for the 2019 flooding.  It may not rise to the level of a big disaster for New York City, but the flooding was devastating for people in Upstate New York.

And we continue to deal with flash flooding.  While we are working to get changes to the Plan 2014, it is critical we also work to recover and mitigate against future flooding and find ways to help communities outside of the major urban areas that may not meet the damage threshold for a federal declaration.  Key issues relate to support for preliminary damage assessments and clarifying how severe localized impacts of disasters are considered in the declaration process.

Last year, I introduced H.R. 4358, the Preliminary Damage Assessment Improvement Act, that would help clarify the support FEMA provides on damage assessments.  I hope we can act on that legislation soon.

I also look forward to working with Members of this Committee on how we can further improve the declaration process for disasters with localized impacts.

From a broader standpoint, it is critical for us to focus on how we can approach disaster response and recovery in an innovative and commonsense way that makes sense for local communities hit by disaster and for the federal taxpayer.  I believe it can be done.

I appreciate the progress being made on reforms we enacted in the Disaster Recovery Reform Act.  However, as we are learning, more reforms and streamlining are needed to ensure communities can recover faster and smarter.

Time is money.  The longer it takes for communities to rebuild, the higher the costs not only for those communities but also for the federal taxpayer.  So it serves no one when recovery drags on.  We must find ways to do things differently to speed up the process.  DRRA was a good step in cutting through some of the red tape, but more is needed.

I look forward to hearing from FEMA Administrator Gaynor and working with him and Members of this Committee on ensuring our emergency management system works effectively for communities preparing for, responding to, and recovering from disasters.

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