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Drought relief has become an expected response of the federal government to periods of widespread drought in the United States. A wide range of emergency, short-term and long-term drought programs were formulated to deal with the extreme drought of the 1930's. By 1977 there were 40 separate programs administered by 16 different federal agencies. This paper traces the development of federal drought relief bureaucracy, including drought designation criteria and procedures.
Two obvious deficiencies of past drought relief efforts in the United States are noted. First, drought relief organizations and programs have been hastily assembled during periods of crisis. This has resulted in reduced program effectiveness as implementation has often been delayed pending program formulation and congressional approval. Second, previous efforts have had no adequate and systematic provision of timely information on drought conditions and impacts to persons or agencies involved in administering drought programs. The design, implementation and evaluation of a near real-time drought surveillance and early warning system is mentioned as one way atmospheric scientists can contribute to improved drought response in the United States.