FEMA and the Merger with DHS: Did it Impact FEMA's Autonomy and Performance?
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The Federal Emergency Management Agency was created by the Carter Administration in 1979 with the idea of bringing all emergency management functions in the federal government under one agency. In 2002, FEMA was moved, along with 22 other agencies, into the newly-created Department of Homeland Security (DHS). When FEMA was merged into DHS, the FEMA director lost the cabinet-level position held under the Clinton administration. This study examines whether the change in authority structure and specifically the change of reporting relationship at FEMA resulting from the merger with the Department of Homeland Security affected FEMA’s autonomy and its ability to perform. A meta-model outlining the relationship between reporting relationship, autonomy and performance is developed based on the existing literature and the FEMA experience. Propositions are presented and discussed based on the meta-model. Data obtained through interviews of former FEMA officials, DHS officials, and state and local officials, along with archival data, is used to understand the FEMA experience. The results of this study indicate that a change in reporting relationship can affect other formal structural elements which can have an impact on autonomy and performance. This study also illustrates that informal elements of autonomy are impacted by a change of reporting relationship and that these elements also impact autonomy and performance. A conclusion of this study is that the merger of FEMA into DHS caused FEMA to lose a degree of autonomy. This loss of autonomy compromised FEMA’s ability to respond swiftly, efficiently and effectively to emergency disasters.
Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)