Legal Policy–The Two Most Important Legal Memo’s sent FEMA Management!

Should you find it strange that the two most important legal memos ever sent FEMA management by the Office of the General Counsel [when FEMA independent] or the Office of the Chief Counsel since FEMA wrapped into DHS were sent by an Acting General Counsel, now 84 years old and living in Bethany Beach Delaware? And the memorandums are remarkable for their brevity? And that FEMA management has yet to address the questions raised by the memos [note they were never responded to in writing to the Acting GC George W. Watson or any later GC or CC!

I have posted on several relevant posts to this post including

and both the memo’s below have been added to the FAS webpage long ago that can be accessed on that blog.

But to emphasize their importantance I am going to post them again here now:

  • FEMA General Counsel Comments on Draft Report on Response to Hurricane Hugo, July 11, 1990
  • FEMA General Counsel Comments on Draft Report on Response to Hurricane Hugo, October 4, 1990
  • These OGC memo’s largely drafted by H. Joseph Flynn a brilliant lawyer that served from 1979 to the mid-90’s in FEMA OGC and signed and approved by George W. Watson, Acting General Counsel from February 1988 until May 1990 raise issues not yet addressed by FEMA management. That is why I am using them to help identify some key issues and give my opinion on why they have not been answered and why FEMA management should in fact answer them and follow through on the answers wherever that might lead FEMA, and hoping not to lead it to irrelevance.

    To answer these memos and take definitive action on those answers whatever they might be would be to help provide understanding in the Executive Branch and Congress how FEMA sees its role as principal Emergency Manager in the Executive Branch and what authority it has to conduct that role, or not.

    So here goes!

    FEMA management does not want to address the issues raised in the memos because to do so would make FEMA fully accountable for the answers and creating an organization accountable for those answers.  This is not just the result of the personality of the various FEMA Directors when independent or the Administrators now housed in DHS.

    At the very core FEMA has designed itself to not be accountable for much of anything and to thrive in the culture and  atmosphere that results. And many of its appointees and senior officials really do hope that “not on my watch” succeeds in getting them through and that various crisis situtations and disasters don’t occur on “their” watch.  The result is that the nation really does not know what it has in its FEMA nor does the President. It would be of interest to know how much face time W. Craig Fugate actually gets with the Secretary DHS and the President and how much time he gets to explain his concerns and interests in the future of FEMA.

    The above is a very harsh judgment for an organization that IMO has a crucial EM role. But that role must be more carefully defined or another tragedy of even great proportions of a Hurricane Katrina or Andrew may well result.

    And of course most with oversight jurisdiction over FEMA also don’t want to answer the questions and address the issues raised by these two memos. They keep hoping FEMA will just be an ATM for their constituents with the fewest hoops possible in the form of federal policy and systems. If that is the case why not just eliminate FEMA and give out block grants to the STATES for disasters, formula driven, and let the ARC [American Red Cross], other NGO’s and the National Guard and USACOE do the FEMA job? In short what does FEMA bring to the table in its current unaccountable form?

    About vlg338
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    1 Response to Legal Policy–The Two Most Important Legal Memo’s sent FEMA Management!

    1. Joseph Flynn says:


      Thanks for the favorable mention. In rereading these memos, I am reminded once again, how well our work has stood up.



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