US can't get disaster chief

2006-04-02 21:09
Washington - The administration of US President George W Bush is struggling ahead of the looming hurricane season to recruit a new federal disaster management chief after several candidates turned the job down, The New York Times reported Sunday.

"Seven of these candidates for director or another top Fema job said in interviews that they had pulled themselves out of the running," the Times said.

The administration is scrambling to find a new disaster chief to head up the federal emergency management agency (Fema) before the June-September storm season hits, after its last chief was ousted in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

Former Fema director Michael Brown was forced from office over the administration's lacklustre response to Katrina which devastated New Orleans and large swathes of the US Gulf coast, killing over 1 000 people.

But seven months after Katrina, the government has still to find a new Fema chief, the Times reported.

It said those canvassed for the job so far were "unconvinced that the administration is serious about fixing the federal emergency management agency or that there is enough time actually to get it done before president Bush's second term ends" in early 2009.

"You don't take the fire chief job after someone has burned down the city unless you are going to be able to do it in the right fashion," Ellis M Stanley, a general manager of emergency planning in Los Angeles and one of those called by the administration, told the Times.

'Insult'

The report said Bush was now likely to nominate R David Paulison, a former fire official who has been filling in for the past seven months, to take the job permanently.

"To a lot of people that would be an insult," said Craig Fugate, the top emergency management official in Florida, who said he also had been interviewed but then withdrew his name.

"They have been publicly out looking at how many different names and everyone turned it down and they come back and ask you?" Fugate told the Times.

With much of New Orleans and the Gulf coast still to be rebuild and widespread criticism of the government's slow response to Katrina last year, the White House is looking for a seasoned disaster official.

Brown, who resigned in September, was criticised for his lack of experience.

He was previously a commissioner of the international Arabian horse association.

And Bush's first Fema director, Joe Allbaugh, was a Bush campaign manager during the 2000 election.

Several emergency managers, including those who were considered for the job, said they were confident, however, that Paulison was up to the task, even if he had not yet had an opportunity to offer a vision for the agency.

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