Today’s Q’s for O’s WH

May 11, 2010 4:01pm

ABC News' Yunji de Nies reports: Before Press Secretary Robert held his regularly scheduled briefing, Administrator Craig Fugate, head Federal Emergency Management Agency, updated reporters FEMA’s ongoing response to tornadoes in Oklahoma and flooding in Tennessee. We were in Tennessee all last week covering the extensive flooding and spoke with DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano during her visit to Nashville on Saturday, so that’s where we focused our questions. 

Yunji de Nies:  When we were in Tennessee on Saturday, we talked to Secretary Napolitano.  And she said that the extent of FEMA's ability to help was limited.

FUGATE:  Yes.

de Nies:  Given how many people there did not have flood insurance, how heavily impacted they are, and how limited the FEMA aid, where do you suggest these people go beyond that?  I mean, obviously, $29,000 isn't enough if you've lost your home and you don't have flood insurance.

FUGATE:  That is correct.  That's I think part of the reason why we look at disasters a lot differently than probably in the past.  And we know that it takes a full federal team to support recovery.

We have a lot of programs that Secretary Donovan brings to the table with the HUD — Community Block Development grant, other types of programs that help.

Plus another thing that we've not always done well in the federal side, and that is really collaborate with faith-based and volunteer organizations that can oftentimes provide labor and other assistance to people in trying to rebuild their homes, where we can use our dollars for materials.

And so, again, if you come in and you do what I call a federal- centric or government-centric response to these disasters, you're going to have a lot of unmet needs, because we do have very defined programs and limits to those programs.

But if you look at a team approach, in looking at what are the resources in the community, where are we going to be able to pull resources together to address particularly those folks that just are not going to have many other options?  For a lot of folks, some of the more affluent neighborhoods, SBA disaster loans will help them get their homes repaired.

But for those that don't have the ability to do the loans and where our grants may not be able to return their home back to a usable condition, partnered with volunteers and other groups as part of a team effort, gets us to those unmet needs.

And so this is our approach, of not just looking at what one program can do, but how we leverage the entire federal family, recognize there's a lot of other resources in the community that we have tended not to bring to bear or work  in a coordinated fashion.

Oftentimes, they were trying to do one thing.  We were over here, we're not talking.  And we don't help the survivors.

de Nies:  Who leads that?  Is it your team or is it the state?

FUGATE:  It's a joint team.  When we go into a coordinated response with the state, I have a federal coordinating officer that's appointed by the president.  That's Gracia Szczech.  She's there. Worked a lot of disasters before.  And we work with TEMA, the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency.

And then at each local level, you have various groups, but generally coordinated through the county or city emergency operations center.

So one of the groups that we were working with and talking to that set up some of the first information center was All Hands, a volunteer organization that was already working, getting information to the survivors in the aftermath of the disaster.

So it's our ability to, one, work with the state as a team, and then bring in and work with some of the more traditional volunteer organizations, like Red Cross and Salvation Army, but also some of their very localized or may only be in one community.

Fugate left and Gibbs resumed his briefing, where our attention turned to the BP oil leak in the Gulf.

de Nies:  There's underwater video of the leak in the progress that BP has that they have said that they would release to the press at some point.  So far, they have not.  Has the president, and who in the administration has seen this video feed, and does the White House think that the public should have access to this?

GIBBS:  I believe the Coast Guard has asked for BP to make that available to the press.  So the answer to your second question is yes.

I don't know the degree to which — who in the administration has seen it.  I believe that it is — I believe that they have seen it at — at the Unified Command Centers (ph) in the area.  I don't know who in the administration has seen it.

de Nies:  But if the White House is in charge; if the federal government is in charge of all of this, couldn't they force BP's hand to make that video available?

GIBBS:  Well, we've asked that to happen.

de Nies:  Well, why hasn't it happened?

GIBBS:  Well, you'd have to ask that to BP.

de Nies:  Second question, can you elaborate, a little bit more, on Beau Biden? We've got this, sort of, cryptic e-mail from the vice president's office.  Can you tell us anything more?

GIBBS:  I — I don't have anything more than what you've been told by the vice president's office, and updates on that will come from them

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