WASHINGTON – The Federal Emergency Management Agency should be dissolved and rebuilt before the upcoming hurricane season, a Democratic senator said Sunday.
"FEMA has become, to many people in America, and particularly the Gulf Coast, a joke, a four-letter word," said Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., and a member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.
He favored keeping the agency within the Homeland Security Department. FEMA was independent before it was folded into Homeland Security when the department was created after the Sept. 11 attacks.
"It's time for FEMA to go and to build something better, stronger within DHS to take its place," Lieberman said.
Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, in appearances on Sunday morning talk shows, warned against overhauling FEMA with hurricane season only three months away.
"Nature doesn't wait for us to do yet another reorganization," Chertoff told NBC's "Meet the Press."
Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., a member of the House Homeland Security Committee, said he favored making FEMA a Cabinet department.
Davis said FEMA should not be competing for dollars within a department concerned with prevention as well as response, said Davis, who appeared with Lieberman on ABC's "This Week."
Chertoff said that is FEMA were taken out of his department, "I predict with virtual certainty that we will be much less prepared in this hurricane season than if we keep the department together and finish the job on integrating."
Chertoff as well as FEMA and the Homeland Security Department were roundly criticized by a House report issued last week on the government response to Hurricane Katrina last summer.
Chertoff, noting that his department was just two years old when Katrina hit in August, said improvements have followed in the wake of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. But he acknowledged that much more work remains in its disaster management.
"I think the bottom line right now is to take the constructive criticism and use that to build toward, as I say, the hurricane season that is 100 days away. And we don't have a lot of time to waste before we start to address that next set of challenges," Chertoff said on CNN's "Late Edition."
Asked why he made positive statements about FEMA during the Katrina response when he had private concerns, Chertoff said: "When you're in a disaster, you look the people in the eyes and you see how they're working their hearts out, even if they haven't done the kind of job you wished they could have done."
He added, "I don't think that's the time to engage in finger pointing and giving brutal assessments about people's performance."