Over two months since Hurricane Ike hit the Texas coast, there is still substantial damage and many state authorities are accusing FEMA of dragging its feet. Texas Governor Rick Perry has even announced he’s giving up on waiting for FEMA and will pay for the cleanup out of state coffers. He plans to stick FEMA with the bill later.

The problems aren’t just from Ike. Hurricane Dolly left its own trail of destruction along the state’s coastline near Mexico and officials there are also complaining that FEMA has done far too little, far too slowly.

The main complaint is the mountains of paperwork FEMA requires before providing aid. FEMA claims they are just protecting against fraud but that reasoning isn’t sitting well with counties where debris still litters the streets and snakes and alligators are moving in. The general consensus is FEMA is disorganized and bureaucratic to the point of being paralytic. Once again, FEMA has become a synonym for what’s wrong with government disaster relief.

In a perfect world, we wouldn’t need FEMA. States and localities could handle disaster relief themselves. The problem is, the cost of cleanup and aid is so immense that only the federal government has the kinds of resources necessary to provide adequate assistance. Without federal help, disaster-struck states and cities would go broke.

But, if we have to have a FEMA, can’t we at least make the organization more agile and more responsive? Obviously, there is no perfect disaster relief and those effected by calamity are always going to be impatient to get their lives back to normal. FEMA will never be loved. But can’t it at least be more efficient? One of the Texas counties hit by Ike just got the first part of a promised $3 million in aid — for cleanup after Hurricane Rita. Certainly FEMA can find a way to disburse funds in less than three years.

The Bush Administration became known for its inability to adequately manage the federal government. Hopefully Barack Obama and his appointees can better handle the complicated assortment of departments, programs and resources that make up the executive branch. One of the first priorities has to be reforming our disaster relief system.

  • People who largely sneer at government will never run it efficiently, IMO.

  • marymarcus

    Thank you for mentioning a bit of what is (or isn’t) occurring on the Texas coast in the aftermath of Hurricane Ike. We are shocked by the continued lack of response by FEMA. We foolishly assumed they’d gotten their act together since Katrina. So many people are still living in their cars or tents. It is absolutely so disheartening to see this happening, once again, in America. Meanwhile, FEMA blames the EPA and local governments for the agency’s lack of assistance.

    FEMA’s performance following Ike has, understandably, become lost in the news about the crippled economy and presidential election. So thank again for the mention.

    By the way, our small local newspaper, ‘The Progress,’ ran the following headline on the front page last week: ‘FEMA abandons Ike victim like stray dog.’ I live in the county with the 30-mile debris field. My husband and I have spent thousands of dollars trying to clear our land of the pieces of homes and businesses blown onto our property. You find things that make your heart hurt. But the work continues.