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date: 21 September 2017

Executive and Legislative Competition over Natural Hazards Policies

This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Natural Hazard Science. Please check back later for the full article.

As with countless other policy areas, natural hazard policy can be viewed as a jurisdictional competition between executive and legislative branches. While policymaking supremacy is delegated to the legislative branch in constitutional democracies, the power over implementation, budgeting, and grant-making that executive agencies enjoy means that the executive branch wields considerable influence over outcomes in natural hazards policymaking. The rules that govern federal implementation of complex legislative policies put the implementing agency at the center of influence over how policy priorities play out in local, county, and state processes before, during, and after disasters hit.

Examples abound related to this give-and-take between the legislative and executive functions of government within the hazards and disaster realm, but none more telling than the changes made to U.S. disaster policy after September 11. The competition and potential for mismatch between legislative and executive priorities has been heightened since the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) was reorganized under the Department of Homeland Security. While this may appear uniquely American, the primacy of terrorism and other security-related threats not only dwarfs natural hazards issues in the United States but also globally. Among the most professionalized and powerful natural hazards and disaster agencies prior to 9/11, FEMA has seen its influence diminished and its access to decision makers reduced.

This picture of legislative and executive actors within the natural hazards policy domain who compete for supremacy goes beyond the role of FEMA and post-9/11 policy. Power dynamics associated with budgets, political influence, and relative power among executive agencies are on-going issues important to understanding this competition for policy influence as natural hazards policy competes for attention, funding, and power among within the broader domain of security policy.