US Lawmakers Want New Disaster Response Agency

A senior White House aide has rejected calls from a U.S. Senate panel for the Federal Emergency Management Agency to be dismantled.

The adviser to President Bush on homeland security said now is not the time for "moving organizational boxes" just weeks ahead of the start of this year's hurricane season.

A report by a Senate committee released Thursday says Hurricane Katrina last year exposed the emergency agency's weak management and lack of resources.

The committee chair, Senator Susan Collins, said FEMA has become "a symbol of a bumbling bureaucracy."

President Bush is making another trip to the Gulf Coast Thursday, to thank volunteers involved in recovery efforts.

The Senate committee is calling for the creation of a new agency, to be called the National Preparedness and Response Authority, to replace FEMA.  The Department of Homeland Security, which operates FEMA, would remain in charge of the new agency, but during a major crisis the director of the agency would be in direct contact with the president.

A Homeland Security Department spokesman who was asked to comment on the committee's recommendations said lawmakers should stop trying to reorganize the emergency agency and focus instead on preparations for this year's hurricane season, which begins in less than five weeks on June 1.

Abolishing FEMA is one of 86 proposals in the Senate report, which examines the sluggish federal response to Hurricane Katrina.  The storm killed more than 1,300 people, displaced thousands of residents and caused tens of billions of dollars in damage as it devastated New Orleans and large parts of the U.S. Gulf Coast. 

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