McFeatters: After Sandy, FEMA may live to fight more disasters

In Westhampton, the high tide in Shinnecock Bay,

In Westhampton, the high tide in Shinnecock Bay, coupled with Sandy's powerful winds and rain, left homes in the area flooded. (Oct 30, 2012) (Credit: Doug Kuntz )

One institution emerged from Sandy unscathed and, in fact, probably in better shape than before the storm: the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

FEMA, the government agency charged with disaster relief, has steadily rebuilt its reputation and capabilities from the 2005 debacle of Hurricane Katrina. That was one fiasco after another. It began with President George W. Bush's wildly mistaken praise for then-FEMA Director Michael Brown -- "Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job" -- and ended with the revelation that thousands of trailers provided as temporary housing were tainted with the carcinogen formaldehyde.

Even at that low point, there were few calls for FEMA to be dismantled. But in Republican primaries, Mitt Romney, still suspected by many in the GOP of being a closet moderate, ran hard to the right to prove he was "severely conservative." During a GOP debate, Romney proposed that FEMA be turned over to the states and perhaps even privatized: "Every time you have an occasion to take something from the federal government and send it back to the states, that's the right direction. And if you can go even further and send it back to the private sector, that's even better." Romney's test for agencies like FEMA is to ask, " 'What are the things we're doing that we don't have to do?' " Sandy the Superstorm gave him his answer Monday.


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Romney's campaign put out a statement that Romney still believes the states are in the best position "to direct resources and assistance to where they are needed most. This includes help from the federal government and FEMA." This is a far cry from privatization and seems a tacit acknowledgement that both FEMA and federal disaster relief would survive in a Romney administration.

This might be part of Romney's steadily edging back to the political center as the election nears, and it might have been a response to a dose of political reality administered by his surrogate, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

Faced with shoreline devastation, inland flooding and millions of people without power, Christie called President Barack Obama -- indeed, talked to him three times over the course of the night -- to ask for help.

Republican Christie used words like "outstanding," "great" "and anything I've asked for, he's gotten to me" to describe the president's response. Obama, he said, has done "a great job for New Jersey."

Dale McFeatters is a syndicated columnist for the Scripps Howard News Service.

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