FEMA should bend the rules on trailers to help Jersey residents

The Oklahoman Editorial Published: December 17, 2012

BARACK Obama is the face of federalized disaster recovery. He swooped into areas affected by Hurricane Sandy in October, looking and sounding presidential.

Now that the face of recovery is turned away from the New Jersey cliffsides and toward the fiscal cliff, who's in charge of post-Sandy relief? The Federal Emergency Management Agency, of course, and FEMA is doing its level best to do what it always does, which is pretend it's not a bureaucracy mired in red tape and incapable of taming the federal regulatory behemoth.

Rather than being the face of recovery, FEMA employees bring up the rear. They work for months after a disaster, helping pick up the pieces of shattered lives and the debris left by storms. They can never work fast enough to satisfy some victims, and they can never escape the responsibility of doing things in a way that doesn't expose taxpayers to fraud.

Politicians can get the glory for disaster recovery (Obama) or become the goat (George W. Bush, after Hurricane Katrina). To the average FEMA employee (we wrote in April following a tornado outbreak here), “goes the grudging duty of actually providing assistance and doing it by the book, within budget and subject to political mismanagement or micromanagement.”

More than six weeks after the storm, many Sandy victims have no assurance of when their lives will return to some normalcy. The much-maligned “FEMA trailers” stand ready to provide shelter through the winter. Some New Jersey residents would like to park a trailer next to their damaged homes while they're being rebuilt. No can do, says FEMA: Federal rules prohibit the trailers from being placed in areas designated as flood zones.

This is trailer park trash talk, but don't blame FEMA operatives. Rules are rules. Not even Hurricane Sandy can dislodge bureaucratic intransigence. Common sense dictates that the rules be bent in this case. Where's Obama? He's moved on. But rest assured he'll be on camera when the next FEMA team moves in following a disaster, perhaps one of the many that affect Oklahoma.

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