Paul Krugman has a good outline of the history of FEMA over the last decade and a half:
The Crony Fairy - New York Times: "In the early 1990's, FEMA's reputation was as bad as it is today. It was a dumping ground for political cronies, headed by a man whose only apparent qualification for the job was that he was a close friend of the first President Bush's chief of staff. FEMA's response to Hurricane Andrew in 1992 perfectly foreshadowed Katrina: the agency took three days to arrive on the scene, and when it did, it proved utterly incompetent.He's right. The current administration is interested in power, but not in the hard work of governing. Why not? Because they don't value government and don't believe that it delivers public benefit. While many people were disposed to believe the same thing before the Decider was elected, there are a lot more now who've become discouraged by the administration's consistent delivery of ineffective government. Katrina is only one obvious example.
Many people thought that FEMA was a lost cause. But Bill Clinton proved them wrong. He appointed qualified people to lead the agency and gave them leeway to hire other qualified people, and within a year FEMA's morale and performance had soared. For the rest of the Clinton years, FEMA was among the most highly regarded agencies in the federal government.
What happened to that reputation? The answer, of course, is that the second President Bush returned to his father's practices. Once again, FEMA became a dumping ground for cronies, and many of the good people who had come in during the Clinton years left. It took only a few years to transform one of the best agencies in the U.S. government into what Senator Susan Collins calls 'a shambles and beyond repair.'"
The critical factor is support, from the administration, for effective government by appointing and supporting competent managers and staff. In the absence of that -- and we can be sure there will be an absence of that with the Decider in office -- there is no reason at all to spent the resources to dismantle one agency, only to replace it with another to do the same thing. We have had an effective FEMA in the past and could have one again, but there's no reason to believe that this administration will do it, so let's stop pretending.