Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley has meetings this week with the top leaders of two federal entities which have been heavily criticized for their involvement in various natural disasters, FEMA and the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers. Grassley is scheduled to sit down Wednesday with Craig Fugate, chief administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Grassley says his meeting with Fugate will focus on the availability of FEMA funds for those affected by the Missouri River flooding. “FEMA treats Mississippi River floods the same as Missouri River floods, the floods the same as earthquakes and hurricanes and tornadoes,” Grassley says. “It’s just a question of will the money be available and how will it be administered?”
While FEMA has been blasted for its Gulf Coast response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Grassley says significant changes have been made in the agency’s playbook since then. “Every natural disaster, you’re going to have some people that aren’t treated exactly right,” Grassley says. “It’s not because of the basic law or it’s not from the money, it’s probably some sort of bureaucratic bungling, but since Katrina, I have not seen a pattern of bungling, more bungling when it comes to an individual here and there.”
The Corps of Engineers is also being singled out by some who say more should have been done to prevent the Missouri River’s current flooding. The Corps was tasked with setting up flood control systems on the river, including five dams, under the Pick-Sloan Missouri Basin Program, created by the Flood Control Act of 1944.
In the decades since that time, Grassley says the focus has shifted and the Corps is now only involved in flood control 16-percent of the time. The new emphasis is more on things like recreational boating, environmental preservation and saving endangered species.
“So we’ve got to get back to the original purpose of Pick-Sloan, the original purpose of the dams,” Grassley says. “There’s no reason we would have to have all of this flooding that we have if the dams had been handled right.” Grassley will be meeting Wednesday with Brigadier General John McMahon, the Army Corps of Engineers Commander for the Northwest Division, which covers western Iowa.
Grassley says he and McMahon will discuss the current flooding in western Iowa and the Corps’ performance in anticipating and reacting to that flooding. “Maybe the Corps is being called upon to do too much,” he says. Grassley notes, the flooding may have been beyond the Corps’ control, due to heavy snowpack in the Rockies and some areas of Montana getting an entire year’s worth of rain in just a month’s time this spring.