Obama to Nominate Florida's Craig Fugate to Lead FEMA
Updated 3:19 p.m.
By Spencer S. Hsu
President Obama will nominate W. Craig Fugate Jr. to lead the Federal Emergency Management Agency, tapping a veteran Florida hurricane official to assume the high-profile disaster response post, the White House announced today.
Fugate, 49, will inherit a sprawling agency reorganized repeatedly since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and that bore the brunt of the political blame for the Bush administration's bungled response to Hurricane Katrina in August 2005.
Responsible for everything from more than $3 billion in state and local security grants, to nuclear preparedness, to emergency communications, to responding to natural and man-made disasters, FEMA has seen its management budget rocket from $526 million to $943 million in two years.
The agency is also helping to pay for the rebuilding of New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf coast, where local officials have complained that more than 1,200 projects valued at $3.7 billion await agreement on funding by authorities, and where the chief of staff of FEMA's local office is under investigation for numerous personnel complaints.
"Craig has what it takes to help us improve our preparedness, response and recovery efforts and I can think of no one better to lead FEMA," Obama said in a statement. "I'm confident that Craig is the right person for the job and will ensure that the failures of the past are never repeated."
Fugate has directed the Florida Division of Emergency Management since 2001, leading hurricane responses in the nation's fourth most populous state. A former volunteer firefighter and paramedic who spent 10 years as emergency manager for Alachua County, Fla., Fugate has presided over 23 declared state emergencies and 11 disasters declared by presidents, including four hurricanes that struck the state in 2004 and 2005.
On a brewing congressional debate over whether to make FEMA a stand-alone, cabinet level agency instead of a component of the Homeland Security Department, Fugate in the past has said he agreed with his future boss, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, saying he was more concerned with ensuring that FEMA operates successfully than where it fits in the government's organizational chart.
Fugate declined to comment today pending Senate confirmation, but will join Napolitano during a visit tomorrow to New Orleans to review recovery efforts from Hurricane Katrina.
Fugate canceled a scheduled appearance last Wednesday before a House appropriations subcommittee hearing on FEMA's future at the last moment, fueling speculation that his selection was imminent.
"Craig Fugate is no stranger to emergency management or to FEMA," Napolitano said. "He is one of the most respected emergency managers in the nation, and the work he's accomplished in Florida serves as a model for other states to follow."
Sen. Mary L. Landrieu (D-La.), who leads a Senate homeland security subcommittee that has investigated the Katrina recovery effort, called Fugate, "a strong choice," praising his "tremendous knowledge of disaster management" and work on-the-ground with FEMA.
Fugate's selection was also praised by state and local emergency managers and Florida Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.).
Nancy Dragani, president of the National Emergency Management Association, which represents state emergency management officials and on whose board Fugate sits, said, "One of Craig's greatest strengths is his vision. Under his leadership I think we have the opportunity to redefine emergency management at the Federal, state and local level. "
The International Association of Emergency Managers United States Council, the professional association for more than 4,500 workers, also said it was "pleased" with Fugate's selection. IAEM has formally called for FEMA to be made independent.
"We believe that this move is a strong and clear statement of the importance that the Administration places on having a fully functional FEMA led by top-notch professionals," said Russ Decker, the group's president.
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