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FEMA partners with AmeriCorps to create FEMA Corps

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The Federal Emergency Management Agency has joined forces with the Corporation for National And Community service to create a new program that takes 18 to 24 year old volunteers and trains them to be the next generation of FEMA managers, according to the agency.

The program would draw upon 1,600 members of AmeriCorps who will spend a minimum of 1,700 hours working directly in disaster response.

The first members will begin serving in this August and the program will reach its full capacity within 18 months, according to FEMA.

FEMA says the program will “enhance the federal government’s disaster capabilities, increase the reliability and diversity of the disaster workforce, promote an ethos of service, and expand education and economic opportunity for young people.”

Cecilia Muñoz, Director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, remarked:

…[FEMA Corps], helps communities recover, it trains young people, helps them pay for college, and it doesn’t cost taxpayers an additional dime. Whether you’re a young person looking for work, a member of the community that’s been hit by a flood or a tornado or just a citizen who wants your tax dollars to be spent as wisely as possible, this is a program you can be proud of. This is really government at its best.
And it’s part of the president’s larger vision for an America built to last. Today, so many of our young people have shown that they’re willing to do their part to work hard, act responsibly and contribute to their communities. But in tough economic times, it’s up to all of us to make sure that their hard work and responsibility still pays off.

We have to preserve what President Obama has called the basic promise of America, that no matter who you are, where you come from, you can make it if you try, if you fulfill your responsibilities and you make a contribution.

To learn more about the new program, visit the AmeriCorps website or our FEMA Corps page.

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FEMA knows what kids want: proofreading photo captions!

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Yes kids, you too can ... sit at a desk.

The FEMA for Kids website is an endless source of entertainment for me. There’s no other site that so perfectly encapsulates how clueless the government can be when it attempts to pander to children, as last year’s 9/11 coloring book kerfuffle showed.

I just stumbled upon its “Careers for Kids” page, which apparently seeks to get elementary school-age children excited about jobs in disaster response. But most of the photos are of feds sitting at their desks, doing work they describe in stultifying government-ese.

Take William Koplitz here, FEMA’s photo desk coordinator. Part of his job is taking photos for the agency’s website and employee newsletter. But rather than focusing on that — and perhaps showing him putting his photography skills to use — his entry is mostly about filing photos and checking to make sure they have the right captions or keywords. Other highlighted jobs talk about policy guidance, flood insurance, and program implementation — just what every kid dreams of.

The site needs to highlight more people like canine search specialist Mary Flood (at the bottom of this page). First off, what kid doesn’t love a big black lab like Flood’s partner, Jake? And second, Flood clearly and succinctly describes how she and Jake work together to find people after a disaster, in a way that doesn’t talk down to kids. Children can easily visualize a heroic dog searching for people in trouble, and it personalizes FEMA in a way that “regional operations director” doesn’t.

(Deep down, the issues with this overly bureaucratic site speak to a broader public image problem the federal government has. And it’s one that’s largely self-inflicted. That’s why Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry recently has made it his mission to “re-polish” feds’ image — and highlight all the cool and important things they do — to bolster the government’s recruitment.)

I’m sure Mr. Koplitz and everyone else highlighted on FEMA’s site are wonderful people, and very good at their jobs. But FEMA’s presentation here is a snooze, and something tells me any schoolkid will skip over the careers page and head right to the FEMA Rap.

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Preparedness…not just for scouts anymore

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Happy first day of hurricane season everyone! Your fellow feds at the National Weather Service are predicting a “near-normal Atlantic hurricane season” this year, with “nine to 14 named storms, of which four to seven could become hurricanes, including one to three major hurricanes.”

With this news, both the National Weather Service and FEMA remind us that “be prepared” should be everyone’s motto, not just the Boy Scouts’ motto.  FEMA had this to say in a news release today:

Everyone, even, those living outside of hurricane-risk areas, should check personal preparations such as emergency kit supplies (enough to last at least 72 hours), note messages from local emergency officials, and rehearse emergency evacuation routes…Important items to have ready in case of an emergency include a battery-powered radio, flashlight, extra batteries, medicines, non-perishable food, hand-operated can opener, utility knife, and first aid supplies. Copy and store your important documents in a waterproof bag. These may include medical records, contracts, property deeds, leases, banking records, insurance records and birth certificates.

Now that you know what to do at home, do you recall what to do in the federal office space should a storm strike? Have you looked at your continuity of operations plans lately? Are you prepared?

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FEMA will stay in DHS

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President Barack Obama’s administration put an end to years of debate Wednesday when Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announced that the Federal Emergency Management Agency will stay within DHS.

FEMA had been an independent agency before the creation of DHS after Sept. 11, 2001, and many have argued that it could respond to disasters best by being removed from the bureaucracy of DHS.

For a full story, check back with Federal Times shortly.

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Hold lifted on FEMA nominee

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Sen. David Vitter, R-La., announced Tuesday he’s lifted his hold on the nomination of W. Craig Fugate as administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Vitter had put the hold on Fugate’s nomination as an effort to get answers from FEMA officials over rebuilding coastal areas, V-Zones, decimated during hurricanes Katrina and Rita. He lifted the hold after recieving a letter from FEMA Acting Administration Nancy Ward promising to resolve the rebuilding issue quickly.

He said he was pleased that FEMA responded to his concerns.

Louisianans have gotten way too many easy spoken assurances from FEMA over the last four years that didn’t mean anything. Now that I’ve secured a specific written commitment from them on the V-Zone issue, we can move forward.”

Fugate’s nomination had been thought to be non-controversial. The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee approved his nomination by voice vote April 27. A floor vote on his nomination hasn’t been scheduled.

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Hey kids! It’s a 9/11 coloring book!

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The cover of "A Scary Thing Happened"

The cover of "A Scary Thing Happened"

The Smoking Gun reports that FEMA pulled a children’s coloring book from its Web site earlier this week after it drew criticism for including images of the World Trade Center attacks. The coloring book, “A Scary Thing Happened,” was intended to teach children about disasters and the emotional turmoil they cause. But some felt that showing the smoldering Twin Towers might be going too far.

“Oh gosh, that was on the front of a coloring book?” Kim Pressley-Herrick, founder of Coloring Away Pain, told Fox News. Pressley-Herrick’s company produces coloring books intended to help children deal with traumatic events. “As a parent, I don’t think children need to see that. There are ways of delivering messages to children on their level without being graphic.”

But with some of these drawings, you have to read between the lines to find out what FEMA’s really trying to warn you about. Hidden subtext after the jump:

Read the rest of this entry »

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More nominations head to Senate floor

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The Senate could vote this week on more of President Barack Obama’s nominees.

The Senate Homeland Security and Government Reform Committee approved two nominations by voice vote Monday: W. Craig Fugate for Federal Emergency Management Agency administrator and John Morton for assistant secretary of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The Senate may vote this week on their nominations, which aren’t controversial. No vote has been scheduled.

Meanwhile, senators are debating the nomination of Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius for secretary of Health and Human Services Tuesday, with a vote expected later in the day. The vote on her nomination has been delayed almost three weeks, as some Republicans have taken issue with her pro-choice stance and her acceptance of campaign contributions from a Kansas doctor who performs late-term abortions.

She must receive at least 60 votes for her nomination to pass, part of a compromise reached by Senate Democrats and Republicans late last week. She’s expected to have the needed number of votes, but not by much.

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Support for FEMA in DHS

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The president-elect hinted on Monday that he would keep FEMA inside the Homeland Security Department. DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff said yesterday that the alternative — pulling FEMA out as a separate agency  — would be a mistake.

Today, two prominent senators voiced their support for keeping FEMA where it is.

In a letter to the New York Times, Sens. Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., and Susan Collins, R-Maine — the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committee — said FEMA needs to stay inside DHS.

The agency still needs improvement, but our reforms are working: FEMA’s response to the 2008 hurricane season was effective. Lives are saved when skills, resources and missions are united — not dispersed.

FEMA is becoming a far stronger agency. The last thing it needs is another upheaval.

But what does secretary-designee Janet Napolitano think? We’ll have to wait and see.


A hint about FEMA's future?

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No surprises from the president-elect’s press conference this morning. You can read about Obama’s national security team, and watch the conference, on the transition Web site.

But there was an interesting bit of language in Obama’s introduction of Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano, his nomination for Homeland Security secretary:

She understands the need for a homeland security department that can respond to terrorist attacks and respond to catastrophes.

What’s interesting is the part about “respond[ing] to catastrophes.” That’s the responsibility of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. And there’s been a lot of talk about removing FEMA from DHS and restoring it to the Cabinet-level status it had before DHS was founded.

But if Obama’s language this morning is any indication — and he tends to pick his words carefully — that doesn’t look likely.