The state’s “Rebuild Iowa Office” is scheduled to be shut down in June, but executives in the agency are asking legislators to establish a downsized version of the office instead.
Governor Culver set up the Rebuild Iowa Office in 2008 to coordinate the state’s response to the devastating flooding and tornadoes that struck Iowa that year. More than $4.3 billion has been allocated for recovery since then, but less than half of it has been spent. Emily Shields, the chief of staff at the Rebuild Iowa Office, wants legislators to create a new “Office of Disaster Recovery Coordination” within the state’s Homeland Security and Emergency Management Division.
“It would carry on a lot of what our office has done to coordinate disaster recovery in the long term,” she says. “It would also ensure that that’s something that goes on all the time and is not just set up after a major disaster.”
Shields says the recommendation doesn’t come directly from her and her staff, but comes instead from local government officials who met this summer for a disaster response drill.
“I don’t think anyone would say it’s realistic to think we’re going to keep a major disaster recovery office when there isn’t a disaster recovery necessarily going on,” she says. “But it would be something that keeps that framework in place, keeps the lessons learned in place so that we can build up much more quickly and easily into a larger organization when needed in a disaster.”
Legislators of both political parties have expressed frustration with the Rebuild Iowa Office over the past two years. Lawmakers questioned whether staff in the agency were earning excessive salaries and they complained about the $19,000 worth of new carpeting that was installed in the Rebuild Iowa Office. In February of 2009 Governor Culver said legislators had raised “fair questions” about Rebuild Iowa Office operations, and he appointed retired Iowa National Guard Brigadier General Ron Dardis to lead the agency and make changes.