Allen Brings Rescue Savvy To Job

Vice Admiral Thad Allen Chief of Staff, US Coast Guard CBS/The Early Show

The Coast Guard has saved a lot of people at sea, so maybe it makes sense for the Bush administration to turn to a Coast Guard admiral to rescue its response to Hurricane Katrina.

Coming aboard to the assignment is Coast Guard Vice Adm. Thad W. Allen, who only on Monday had been named Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff's special deputy for hurricane recovery efforts. He was already leading the rescue and recovery efforts in New Orleans.

Leaving the helm of the hurricane response operation is Michael Brown, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. He moves from the heart of the crisis and back to his desk in Washington.

Brown had been the butt of blistering, unceasing and often bipartisan criticism for FEMA's response to the worst natural disaster in U.S. history. He had previously worked for more than a decade running the International Arabian Horse Association. He had no background in disaster relief before the former FEMA director, Joe Allbaugh, an old friend, brought him on board as the agency's general counsel in 2001.

In contrast, Allen actually rescued people from storms early in his Coast Guard career. Later, he headed Coast Guard operations in the Southeast United States and the Caribbean, where he was responsible for 15,000 search and rescue missions.

Chertoff tapped Allen, the Coast Guard's third in command, to be the principal federal official overseeing the response and recovery effort.

"Vice Admiral Allen is doing an exceptional job, and he has my full support in the important work ahead," Chertoff said.

Chertoff noted that cleaning up the oil spills created by Katrina on both land and sea will be an enormous challenge. Protecting the environment is one of the Coast Guard's main missions, along with search and rescue.

It's not the first time the Bush administration has looked to the Coast Guard to save a foundering agency with a homeland security mission. In July 2002, John Magaw was replaced as head of the Transportation Security Administration — amid harsh criticism — by retired Admiral James Loy, former Coast Guard commandant and Allen's former boss.

On Sept. 11, 2001, Allen was commander of all Coast Guard operations east of the Rocky Mountains. In the days after the terrorist attacks, he was responsible for making sure local responders in the New York area had the vessels, aircraft and personnel they needed.

Four months later, Allen was asked about the Coast Guard's all-hands-on-deck response to the hijackings as part of an oral history project.

"When we decide we're going to do something, we'll do it," he said.

Allen, 56, is also credited with leading the Coast Guard's smooth transition from the Transportation Department to the Homeland Security Department in 2003.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine and chairman of the committee that oversees Homeland Security, said it became clear to her on Thursday that the Coast Guard was the most organized and best prepared entity to deal with the initial response.

"Vice Admiral Thad Allen is a strong choice," Collins said in a statement. "He is a highly respected leader who should be very effective in improving the coordination of assistance for the hundreds of thousands of individuals and their families who were affected by the hurricane."

Allen, the Coast Guard's chief of staff since 2002, has spent his entire career in the Coast Guard since graduating from the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in 1971.

A graduate of MIT's Sloan School of Management, Allen is described as sharp and incisive, an avid reader who provides clear direction.

"We don't know when he sleeps," said Coast Guard spokeswoman Jolie Shifflet.
  • Scott Benjamin

Comments