Bush Nominates New FEMA Director

Empty FEMA mobile homes being stored at the Hope, Arkansas airport, 2-24-06
AP
With hurricane season two months away, President Bush on Thursday nominated the acting director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency to be permanent head of the disaster response agency.

R. David Paulison, a 30-year firefighter, took over at FEMA in September when Bush named him to replace the beleaguered Michael Brown. Brown quit in the face of unrelenting criticism over the agency's sluggish response to Hurricane Katrina.

If confirmed by the Senate, Paulison would be undersecretary for federal emergency management at the Homeland Security Department.

"I'd be darned if I was going to turn my back on it," Paulison said at a news conference after he and Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff acknowledged that others were not interested in the job.

Paulison said the agency would be ready for the June 1 start of the hurricane season.

Paulison and Chertoff said they were working to fill hundreds of vacant positions at FEMA. The agency is now at 80 percent in terms of all full-time employees and intends to reach 95 percent by June 1.

The Bush administration has come under widespread criticism for being unprepared for Katrina, which smashed into the Gulf Coast on Aug. 29, and for responding too slowly afterward.

Rep. Peter King, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said Paulison was a "terrific choice."

"In terms of experience, no one is more qualified to lead FEMA than David Paulison," said King, R-N.Y.

Paulison, 59, began as a firefighter in 1971 with the North Miami Beach Fire Department in Florida.

Paulison, who received a bachelor's degree from Florida Atlantic University, was just six weeks into his new job as fire chief in Florida's Miami-Dade County when Hurricane Andrew struck in 1992, leaving tens of thousands of people homeless and causing billions of dollars in damage.

Paulison also led the department through the 1996 crash of ValuJet Flight 592 in the Florida Everglades.

Praised for his response to Andrew, Paulison brought hands-on experience and his training in fighting fires and emergency management to his post as FEMA's interim director.

A longtime advocate of home-emergency kits, Paulison made a splash in 2003 when as director of FEMA's emergency preparedness unit he urged the public to stock supplies of duct tape and plastic sheeting to seal windows and doors in case of a terrorist attack. Home hardware stores in several areas ran out of duct tape as a result and manufacturers spurred production to meet the surge in demand.

A certified paramedic, Paulison moved to Washington in late 2001. After FEMA became part of the Homeland Security Department in 2003, he led FEMA's emergency preparedness force until last year. He also has led the U.S. Fire Administration.

Chertoff also announced the hiring of three other FEMA executives: Vice Admiral Harvey E. Johnson, Jr., as FEMA deputy director and chief operating officer; acting FEMA Mitigation Division director David Maurstad to the permanent role; and Deidre Lee as deputy director of operations.

Recently, FEMA's Gil Jamieson, deputy director of Gulf Coast Recovery said the federal government is stockpiling supplies ahead of the new hurricane season.

He said FEMA is already stockpiling MREs, water, cots, blankets and other emergency supplies at government sites in the Gulf Coast.