Katrina's Legacy: FEMA and the Economics of Disaster Relief

Sep 23, 2005
B-338 Rayburn House Office Building


Hon. Tim Roemer 
Former U.S. Representative and Distinguished Scholar
Mercatus Center at George Mason University

Hon. Maurice McTigue
Distinguished Visiting Scholar and Vice President
Mercatus Center at George Mason University

Dr. Jerry Ellig
Senior Research Fellow
Mercatus Center at George Mason University

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As concerned citizens and policymakers ask impassioned questions about government failures in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, many are looking for a place for the blame to fall. Lost amid all the finger-pointing is a more important question: where do we go from here? What lessons need to be learned from Katrina that will better enable the nation to respond to future disasters, both natural and man-made?

The history of the Federal Emergency Management Agency has been tumultuous at best. It went from being referred to as “the sorriest bunch of bureaucratic jackasses” to what may have been “the most popular agency in the entire federal government” at its peak in the late-1990s. A collection of different but related management reforms brought FEMA to the forefront of government agencies. Since the 2000 election, how has the mission of FEMA changed? How has the merger with DHS affected FEMA’s efficiency? What, if anything, does this imply about the other organizations under the DHS umbrella?

At this critical point in time, it is vital that we not only look back at history’s lessons, but also look forward to ensure that government organizations are able to respond accordingly in times of need. To help foster a constructive climate for informed debate in the wake of Katrina, the Mercatus Center at George Mason University will host a seminar to discuss the following questions:

  • What does Hurricane Katrina teach us about the structure and effectiveness of FEMA? Of other agencies within DHS?
  • What are the dangers of merging different government organizations? Are historic missions lost in the transfer?
  • How was FEMA able to experience such an impressive turnaround in the 1990s? What does this imply about other organizations within DHS?
  • What questions need to be asked to ensure informed debate on Capitol Hill regarding the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina?
  • What can the lessons of economics teach us about how to ensure an effective government response to future disasters?