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Katie Sanders
By Katie Sanders March 8, 2011

Gov. Rick Scott wants more control over state hurricane response

Florida’s CEO-turned-governor Rick Scott wants more control over the state’s response to emergencies, like hurricanes.

During his first State of the State address on March 8, 2011, Scott said he has asked the Division of Emergency Management to "report directly to me."

"If a hurricane comes our way -- I hope it doesn’t -- I will be personally and continuously engaged in solving problems," he said. "Direct, clear lines of authority will expedite our efforts."

This wasn’t the first time Scott announced his intention to move the division within the Executive Office of the Governor. That news arrived simultaneously with his appointment of Wal-Mart emergency management director Bryan Koon to the agency’s helm on Dec. 28, 2010, a week before Scott’s inauguration.

"If approved," Scott said in a press release, "this move will create a direct reporting structure and enhance communication and cooperation across all federal, state and local entities involved in Florida’s disaster preparedness efforts and response. This transfer will help cut bureaucratic red tape during emergencies and ensure the director has full access and accountability to Florida’s CEO."

Scott cited the proposal, which needs legislative approval, as an example of his mission to streamline the way state government operates. So we wanted to see just how many government hoops Scott's plan would eliminate.

The Division of Emergency Management was created in 1969 by the Florida Legislature to act as a liaison between federal and local bodies amid environmental and man-made disasters. The division currently is housed within the Department of Community Affairs -- an agency the governor already controls.

That, by itself, gives the governor broad leeway in handling personnel and policy decisions.

And the division itself, it turns out, already reports to the governor.

Gov. Lawton Chiles came up with the idea after Hurricane Andrew came ashore in 1992 but the direct link between the governor's office and the division became permanent under Gov. Jeb Bush after the 2004 hurricanes when Bush sought legislation to put it into law. Craig Fugate, now director of FEMA, was head of the division at the time.

Sen. Mike Fasano, R-Port Richey,  sponsored the bill in the Senate. Rep. Tom Anderson, R-Dunedin, was the House sponsor. The law was effective July 1, 2006, and created the Division of Emergency Management as an independent agency with its own budget and a director appointed by the governor.
Fugate said, in an interview with the St. Petersburg Times' Lucy Morgan on March 9, that the change was made so it was easier to coordinate the state’s emergency response in the face of a disaster.

The division explained it this way as part of its 2009 annual report (the most recent report we could find online):

"Though the Division is administered through the Department of Community Affairs, Section 20.18 (2) (a) of the Florida Statutes states that the Division’s executive leadership reports directly to the Governor on all matters concerning the agency’s purview."

We checked the statutes. They establish the division as a unit of DCA, note that the division is a separate budget entity not within DCA’s control, and require the governor to appoint the division director.

Scott’s budget proposal would formally transfer the Division of Emergency Management (and a budget of $238,593,605 plus 128 positions) from DCA to the Governor’s Office. That’s about the extent of the formal changes we could find.

Scott took time during his first State of the State speech to say that he wants to have the Division of Emergency Management "report directly to me." By statute, it already does. All that seems to be changing is where the division is housed for budgeting purposes. He's really just redrawing lines on an org chart, and it's not as groundbreaking a change as it sounds.

We rate this claim Barely True.

Editor's note: This statement was rated Barely True when it was published. On July 27, 2011, we changed the name for the rating to Mostly False.

Our Sources

St. Petersburg Times, "Scott hires Indiana's Edwin Buss to head Florida Department of Corrections; Walmart's Bryan Koon as Emergency Management chief," Dec. 28, 2010

Scott transition press release, Dec. 28, 2010

Florida Division of Emergency Management website, accessed March 8, 2011

Scott’s 2011-2012 budget proposal, accessed March 8, 2011

Florida Division of Emergency Management, 2009 annual report, accessed March 8, 2011

Florida Statutes, Chapter 20.18(2)(a)

Interview with Craig Fugate, March 9, 2011

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Gov. Rick Scott wants more control over state hurricane response

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