No Quick Fixes
The problem is not where FEMA sits on the organization chart; it's the failure of FEMA's leaders to plan for a catastrophe that, contrary to their assertions, was not only foreseeable but actually foreseen by experts both inside the agency and out. Indeed, making FEMA independent again might even be dangerous, if it leads people to think that simply because FEMA once again reports directly to the president, it will perform better next time.I agree that competent leadership is important, but that's independent of whether FEMA is independent, and I've argued before that making FEMA a cabinet level post makes better leadership more likely, since the choice for FEMA administrator becomes higher profile.
The other fallacy gaining political momentum is that FEMA's budget needs to be overhauled because too little has been spent recently on preparedness for natural disasters and too much on counterterrorism. Like the proposed organizational solution, this argument has a seductive plausibility; but it's wrongheaded, too.
So let's not move boxes around on the organization chart (again). Instead, let's appoint competent and experienced leaders and provide vigorous independent oversight to make sure they're doing what they're supposed to do. And instead of taking the same amount of money and moving it from one line item in the homeland security budget to another (again), we need to admit that we've woefully underfinanced homeland security all along, and increase the overall amount of money we're spending on it.
I agree entirely that the issue isn't that too much was spent on counter-terrorism and terrorism response, but that too little was invested in the more mundane disaster recovery. Terrorism is sexy and it's easy to get money for counter-terrorism. Hurricanes happen every year, so do wildfires, earthquakes, tornados and floods. If FEMA isn't adequately funded and staffed to handle both missions, those missions need to be better separated.
Additional spending on homeland security needs to come from somewhere. I nominate the estate and gift tax.