Jeffords opposes moving FEMA to Homeland Security

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(Host) Senator James Jeffords says he will strongly oppose efforts by the Bush administration to place the federal agency responsible for disaster relief within the new Homeland Security Agency.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) The U.S. Senate is expected to consider legislation in the near future that expands the jurisdiction of the newly created Homeland Security Agency. Part of the plan proposed by the Bush administration calls for big changes for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA.

Currently FEMA reports directly to the president, however under the Bush proposal FEMA would become one of many departments in the new Homeland Security Agency. Jeffords, as the chair of the Senate Environment Committee, a panel that has jurisdiction over FEMA, thinks the change is a terrible idea. As a member of the U.S. House in the 1980s, Jeffords fought to separate disaster relief from the Civil Defense Agency:

(Jeffords) “It got swallowed up by the Civil Defense and it got all fouled up because Civil Defense had them doing all sorts of things. They kind of lost their perspective on their emergency response. In fact it was Tom Ridge and myself who went after them back then and said, ‘Hey, this is too important an agency.’ There are many, many more disasters that are natural disasters then there are possibilities of either terrorism, or back then atomic attack.”

(Kinzel) Jeffords says he s concerned that FEMA will be less effective in quickly responding to natural disasters if it loses its independent status:

(Jeffords) “I m sure the people that are concerned about having a terrorist behind every tree are going to rob [FEMA] of their people and get them oriented in a different direction. And yet when you look at what happened after 9/11, they were perfect. They responded immediately, they got things under control, they had responders from all over the country coming in. Every thing worked fine.”

(Kinzel) This weekend Jeffords is planning to visit FEMA s temporary field office in Vermont that was established to help coordinate relief efforts from the floods that hit four counties in the state last month.

For Vermont Public Radio, I m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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