FEMA Dissolves Gulf Coast Recovery Office

FEMA office new orleans CBS

In the wake of CBS News' exclusive report of widespread problems in FEMA's New Orleans recovery office for Hurricane Katrina, FEMA has announced complete reorganization of the recovery operations.
FEMA announced today that they are eliminating the Gulf Coast Recovery Office. The move comes six weeks after an exclusive CBS News Investigation revealed the office was so poorly managed that Katrina recovery may have been slowed.

With the shut down of the Gulf Coast Recovery Office, the assistant administrator James Stark, will likely be reassigned within FEMA. FEMA will also be eliminating the chief of staff position, a job previously held by Doug Whitmer.

FEMA's decision comes after the then acting head of the agency, Nancy Ward, went to the New Orleans Office the day after the CBS News report to perform a "climate assessment." At that time, Chief of Staff Doug Whitmer was temporarily reassigned to a FEMA post in Texas.

In a statement, FEMA confirmed the decision to eliminate the Gulf Coast Recovery Office calling it "realignment" and said it is meant to streamline their recovery process.

"Dissolving the Gulf Coast Recovery Office at this time and moving those operations to the Louisiana Transitional Recovery Office will lead to faster decision making and improve efficiency in recovery operations."

Representative Anh "Joseph" Cao of Louisiana expressed relief at the decision calling it a "welcome change" and that it was "good news" for the recovery effort in the region, in a statement released today.

"I am pleased to report that DHS is closing the GCRO and effectively removing the middle men responsible for the slow down."

Cao also pointed to allegations of misconduct and "cronyism" at the Gulf Coast Recovery Office as well as the Congressional hearing where he questioned Stark.

"While today's announcement may not be directly related to these ongoing investigations, closing the GCRO was right decision and will make the recovery process in Louisiana more transparent."

In the exclusive CBS News report, more than a dozen current and former FEMA employees detailed a so-called "toxic bureaucracy" inside the New Orleans office responsible for Hurricane Katrina recovery efforts. Employees detailed a hostile work environment which they claimed was created by Whitmer but also tolerated by his boss, Stark.

By Elizabeth Sprague and Michael Rey
  • CBS Investigates

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