Analysis: After the Oklahoma Tornado, Obama Needs to Make FEMA Work

May 21, 2013

In the wake of the tornado which cut through Moore, Okla., on Monday, it's worth remembering, for a moment, how wrong things went after Hurricane Andrew. Over 20 years ago, the Category 5 hurricane struck Florida. It was then the costliest hurricane in U.S. history, and the federal government's botched response earned scorn for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, charged with coordinating disaster relief. Victims stood in endless lines at relief centers. Supplies that could have been ready were not. Then-Sen. Fritz Hollings, a South Carolina Democrat, once called FEMA "the sorriest bunch of bureaucratic jackasses I've ever known," and that week in Florida, it was hard to find many who would disagree.

After the Moore tornado, we're reminded that FEMA's work is vital and its politics treacherous.

Americans have come to see the federal government as essential to disaster relief, and those such as Rep. Ron Paul who have suggested ending that role, albeit some time ago, are outliers even for Republicans. After all, it was Herbert Hoover who got the federal government into the disaster-relief business. The 1927 Mississippi River flood was a national calamity, and state governors called on Hoover, then Commerce secretary, to coordinate relief. He touted his efforts during his GOP presidential campaign the following year.

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