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New CBC report may give peek at Obama's agenda

NNPA, News Report, Hazel Trice Edney Posted: Jul 02, 2009

A bi-annual report released recently by the Congressional Black Caucus may give a sneak peek at President Barack Obama's agenda for Black America.

"We have a very forward-thinking, progressive, bold agenda and that's what we're working on in terms of the Congressional Black Caucus agenda - but also the president's agenda - which 99 percent of the time is in sync," says CBC Chair Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) in an interview with the NNPA News Service.

"So, I see us as being in partnership as we should be as members of Congress with the executive branch to try to make sure that we have an agenda that really speaks to - not only the Black community and communities of color - but to the whole country."

On an election-eve phone conference with Black leaders, then candidate Obama was emphatic in a promised to never forget the disparities in Black America. But, since in the White House he has not specifically outlined an agenda for how these racial disparities would be add_ressed.

Lee reminds that President Obama was a member of the CBC before becoming president and that the CBC's 17 subcommittee chairs and four committee chairs are at the White House on a regular basis, working in tandem with the President on various issues, including those of racial and social injustice.

"And so members are at the White House consistently and constantly on the issues that revolve around their committee, which also reflect the perspective of the Con_gressional Black Caucus," she says.

The bi-annual report, "Oppor_tunities for All - Pathways Out of Poverty," states that its purpose is to push "for equal empowerment, including equal access to quality education, public facilities and infrastructure, credit and public contracts, jobs and job training, affordable housing, and equal pay for equal work. To supplement the priorities set forth by President Barack Obama and Congressional Leadership, members of the CBC have intro and CEO of the Recovery Corps. "Its ideas certainly are in line with the way we have been discussing these critical issues with our partners and we continue to believe that in doing so, along with the work of organizations like the Rockefeller Institute and others, we will be able to help favorably shape governmental policy associated with disaster recovery."

In its 2009 Legislative Agenda, the Recovery Corps stated that it would "... work with federal partners and legislators to advocate for amending the Stafford Act so that it can better serve people in the wake of disaster. It should be noted that the Stafford Act was not designed to deal with massive disasters and it has ultimately retarded recovery in Louisiana and other states."

The rigidity of the Act and its voluminous amendments has certainly served to handcuff those federal agents, officers, and agencies working under its oversight. According to the Rockefeller report, that rigidity must change and allow for a new federal designee who can make decisions based on real-time information on the ground and have the authority to press the president and Congress into taking immediate action.

"The approach we suggest," reads the report, "would more flexibly rely on a statutory base for the designation of a presidential officer-in-charge whose job would encompass two purposes: (1) To lead, advise, assist, and coordinate federal, state, local, and private-sector organizations and agencies in the immediate response and recovery processes; (2) To provide timely and deliberative processes to enable the president and the Congress to consider extraordinary national action."

According to the report, this designee would have pre-approved discretionary funding and would be empowered to quickly assemble and deploy experts and to recommend and obtain expedited consideration of a national action program if such a program is determined to be appropriate given the scope and size of the disaster.

"This proposal is in line with our suggestion, based on national best practices, of the need for a centralized coordinating body or individual in the wake of major disasters," said Sizer. "The key to this role, though, will be the extent of its federal authority and its ability to coordinate on a federal, state and local level with government entities and the non-profit sector efficiently and with strict accountabilities. Too many unfunded and unauthorized federal mandates have caused confusion and indecisiveness and have hampered recovery at key moments within the recovery process.

"Further, in order for the process to work effectively, a similar role must be created within each state in order to oversee the human recovery coordination in the wake of catastrophic disasters. This is the role that the Recovery Corps was charged with fulfilling for the state of Louisiana via Act 313 of the 2007 Louisiana Legislature. Similar to the national role, such statewide roles must also be granted the proper authority and funding to work directly with federal, state, local, and non-profit partners."

As the report properly states, business as usual is not a workable option as it relates to future catastrophic disasters. Just as reform is needed within domestic sectors such as healthcare, education, infrastructure, energy, and the environment, reform must be implemented with the country's response and recovery sector.

"There are 89,527 governments in the United States," according to the Rockefeller report. "This includes the national government, 50 states, 3,033 counties, nearly 20,000 municipal governments, over 14,000 school districts, and more than 37,000 special districts that provide a wide array of services."

These numbers alone should provide some insight into the fractionalization of the government in this country. Add to that the numerous agencies and organizations within many of those government entities, along with needs and responsibilities of the private sector and the non-profit sector, and it is clear that without the proper alignment, no forward-thinking planning or reform will ever work.

"This is why the Recovery Corps has continually advocated for better alignment among and within each level of government," said Sizer. "Further, those governmental layers must also be aligned with the private sector and the non-profit sector in order for effective and efficient response and recovery to be initiated. For example, if the federal government does its job perfectly but the state government in an impacted area is not ready to receive or distribute federal resources, the initiative is a failure. Further, if the federal and state governments do their jobs perfectly but the local governments cannot receive or disburse resources properly, again the entire system is a failure. This failure will also occur should the non-profit sector not be aligned within the system or the private sector not be aligned within the system."

In short, without the proper alignment within all sectors and all of the agencies and organizations within those sectors, the entire recovery system will falter and fail in its efforts to serve effectively and efficiently the needs of those impacted American citizens.

It should be noted that the Rockefeller report also touches on the need for a long-term recovery plan in the wake of a catastrophic disaster. According to the report, "If the responsible organizations and individuals had anticipated the storm (Hurricane Katrina), they could have put procedures in place that would have minimized the casualties and property losses and that would have put the devastated areas on a fast, smoother road to recovery."

Certainly the Recovery Corps has continued to advocate for the creation of a long-term human recovery plan in the wake of a disaster for the state of Louisiana and the United States. The Recovery Corps continues to work with state elected officials and the Governor's Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness in ensuring that Louisiana develops this essential plan. Likewise, the Recovery Corps is also working with federal partners, some of which will report directly to the Obama administration, on developing such a plan for the federal government.

The state of Louisiana has already suffered from the lack of a long-term human recovery plan. Take the words from the Rockefeller Institute's original report from 2006 entitled One Year Later - First Look at the Recovery, Role, and Capacity of States and Localities Damaged by the 2005 Katrina and Rita Hurricanes:

"In the end, Katrina and Rita produced two disasters. The first was the immediate crisis created when the hurricanes made landfall. The second was the difficulty various levels of government had in working together to respond to the crisis. This was - and remains - the more dangerous of the two because the inability to work together has spilled over into the recovery efforts, with ordinary citizens caught in the middle. The long-term impact could be haphazard rebuilding of the devastated communities, meaning mistakes will be repeated, segments of the population will be left out, and a rare opportunity to reshape a region for the better will be lost."

"How prophetic those words are as we read them today," Sizer said. "We have lost many great opportunities because of a lack of a long-term recovery plan, the inability to align the government with the private and non-profit sectors, restrictive federal laws and protocols, and the lack of centralized coordination at a national and state level with the authority to make critical decisions and offer meaningful advice and counsel to the highest levels of government. That must change in a meaningful way or we will be doomed to repeat the failures of our past."

The Recovery Corps continues its efforts to provide practical solutions and advocate for intelligent reforms related to long-term human recovery based on lessons learned through direct work on behalf of impacted citizens, critical research, and partnerships with outstanding organizations whose work assists the Recovery Corps in establishing important policy positions and legislative reforms.

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