It Might be Time to Have Another Discussion on the Future of USFA


CarolinaFireJournal - Bill Webb
Bill Webb
10/16/2020 -

Anyone who knows the history of the United States Fire Administration understands that its genesis goes back to the advocacy of the Joint Council of Fire Service Organizations, and more specifically, the efforts of the National Commission on Fire Prevention and Control that published a landmark report called “America Burning.” Through “America Burning,” the Commission proposed a federal-level agency that would provide leadership in the areas of training, data collection, research, and education for the fire service.

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USFA is the only federal agency directly representing the fire service – and it deserves higher recognition than what it has received throughout its history. Name another federal agency that has a constituency of one million, a budget of only $55 million, and a voice that is not always heard at the highest level of a department’s hierarchy.

Since it was created, the USFA has struggled to fulfill the mission as envisioned by the members of the Commission. There’s no question about that as evidenced by the work of the Blue Ribbon Panel that was convened by FEMA Director James Lee Witt in 1998. To a large extent, the problems can be attributed to its budget. The Commission on Fire Prevention and Control recommended $125 million in initial funding. That would equal $732 million today. Imagine the type of training, data collection, research and education the agency could conduct today with that level of funding.

Another problem that has beset USFA is that it has never commanded the attention of its parent agency. The National Fire Prevention and Control Act of 1977 established the National Fire Prevention and Control Administration — the antecedent name of USFA — under the U.S. Department of Commerce. Three years later, USFA was relocated when the Carter Administration created the Federal Emergency Management Agency. And then in 2002, both FEMA and USFA were uplifted and placed under the newly-created U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

USFA is the only federal agency directly representing the fire service – and it deserves higher recognition than what it has received throughout its history. Name another federal agency that has a constituency of one million, a budget of only $55 million, and a voice that is not always heard at the highest level of a department’s hierarchy. No others exist, yet such is the existence of the United States Fire Administration under FEMA and DHS.

Maybe it is time to have another discussion on the future of the United States Fire Administration. While being part of the Department of Homeland Security is a natural fit, the question is whether it should be on equal footing with FEMA and not under its jurisdiction. As we look ahead to the 2020 election and the start of a new Congress in 2021, perhaps we should think about creating a forum to have this discussion. What do you think?

Bill Webb has served as Executive Director of the Congressional Fire Services Institute since 1995. CFSI is a nonprofit, nonpartisan policy institute designed to enhance congressional awareness about the concerns and needs of the fire and emergency services. As Executive Director, he works closely with members of Congress and fire service leaders to sustain support on Capitol Hill for programs and legislation that benefit our nation’s fire and emergency services. Before joining CFSI, Webb worked for the Firefighter Combat Challenge as the project manager for the competition. He currently serves as Vice Chairman of the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation and is an honorary member of the Vienna Volunteer Fire Department, the Delaware Volunteer Firefighters’ Association and the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 36.
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