hurricane map

Hurricane Season Tests Agencies, Congress

With the approach of Hurricane Irma and following the landfall of Hurricane Harvey – an event FEMA Director William Long speculated might be the worst disaster in Texas’ history and which some projections estimate could be the costliest natural disaster in American history – federal agencies and Congress alike face a challenging task in ensuring the disaster relief efforts run smoothly.

Notably, a number of agencies relevant to hurricane response are still without directors, with vacancies at the National Hurricane Center (the agency has been led by an acting director since May), the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which oversees the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the organization most on the “frontlines” of federal disaster response.

FEMA’s own director has been in office less than three months and will also face the first and most challenging situation of his brief tenure in the position.

The Washington Post also notes a May Government Accountability Office (GAO) report on the National Weather Service, which “found that vacancies at many of the agency’s 122 local weather forecast offices left the staff ‘at times unable to complete key tasks.’” and expressed concern at the frequency at which staff members “experienced stress, fatigue and reduced morale resulting from their efforts to cover for vacancies.”

In addition to question marks at a number of agencies, Congress returns to work this week, and the Trump Administration’s request for Hurricane Harvey relief funding will be among the most pressing items on the docket. Though the funding is widely projected to pass, there have been some rumblings of using the funding as a political football, with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin floating the idea of tying Harvey aid to a vote to raise the debt limit.

Scientific American points out that there are differing opinions between the House and Senate regarding funding relevant to hurricane response, specifically noting the disagreements over NOAA’s Polar Follow-On program, “which operates satellites that collect data used to predict the weather, including hurricanes. The House has proposed only $50 million for this program, a huge cut from the $329 million it received in 2017. The Senate, however, would give the program $419 million.”

 

 

 

Posted in Featured News

Tags: natural disasters

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