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FEMA Leadership

Let’s look at the qualifications of the most recent three FEMA directors.

The current FEMA director is Mike Brown. Before joining FEMA as a lawyer, he was an estate lawyer and worked for 11 years managing and adjudicating horse shows. He became FEMA head when his boss, Allbaugh, left and recommended him to the president.

Joe M. Allbaugh served as the second President Bush’s national campaign manager for Bush-Cheney 2000. Prior to that Allbaugh was Governor Bush’s chief of staff in Texas from 1995 to 2000. Allbaugh left FEMA in 2000 to run a Washington private consulting company to help companies make millions in Iraq.

Clinton’s FEMA director was James Lee Witt. Prior to his appointment to FEMA, Witt served as the Director of the Arkansas Office of Emergency Services (OES) for four years. Prior to that he had a background in commercial and residential construction, and was, at age 34, the chief elected official of his county with judicial responsibilities for county and juvenile court. He was re-elected six times.

In 2003, he became the Chief Executive Officer of the International Code Council (ICC), a 50,000-member association dedicated to building safety. It develops the codes used to construct residential and commercial buildings, including homes and schools.

My friend, James Huggins, has also asked me which one of the three people described above would I choose to head FEMA.

My answer, after several days of thought, is none of the above.

James Lee Witt was director of FEMA when Los Alamos, NM, was burning due to a poorly planned, and even more poorly executed, prescribed burn done by the Park Service.

Even with his experience in emergency services in Arkansas, he was criticized soundly by the people of Los Alamos.(Keep in mind that we have to discount that criticism just a bit because the pampered scientists who work for the Department of Energy are overpaid and over-served by that department.)

In every emergency situation, grim realities slap survivors every single day – for a very long time. I won’t talk about those realities now – maybe in the future.

In my opinion, the director of FEMA must have enough experience to deal with the experts who work for FEMA.And not one bit more. I refer you to my story in the previous post.

In addition, the FEMA director must be a person who can communicate – directly, honestly, and often – with all levels of government bureaucrats, media, politicians, and the general public.

I listened to a brief out-take of a teleconference held between the head of the hurricane center, the president, head of Homeland Security, and head of FEMA that was held days BEFORE the hurricane hit. The head of the hurricane center warned them about the at least 20’ surge that would hit New Orleans and the Mississippi coast.

And I heard the head of FEMA say exactly what all of us would want to hear – we’re ready, we have people on the ground already, we’ll do whatever it takes.

This brings home the lesson that actions are more powerful than words. He said all the right things – but didn’t do all the right things.

What do you think?

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