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Brown's Turf Wars Sapped FEMA's Strength
But the ODP and its patrons on Capitol Hill -- especially Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), who had used his Appropriations Committee seat to help create the office at the Justice Department -- quietly blocked the administration's effort to meld it into FEMA.
The ODP had only about 150 employees, compared with FEMA's 2,500, but it was favored by law enforcement officials, who worried that FEMA's historic focus on floods and fires rather than bombs and anthrax would produce a funding shift from police departments to fire and emergency management departments.
The ODP's power play caught FEMA by surprise. Baughman, the head of FEMA's new preparedness office, tried to launch a rear-guard action on the Hill, but members of Congress kept reminding him that Witt had turned down an offer to start the ODP back in 1997.
"They said, 'You had this opportunity to take this, and you opted not to, so bye-bye, get out of my office,' " Baughman said.
So when Bush signed the Homeland Security Act in late 2002, the ODP ended up in the DHS border directorate, which had nothing to do with preparedness but made Gregg and others happy because it was nowhere near FEMA on the organizational chart. "We intended to put ODP into FEMA -- that was the vision," said Susan Neely, Ridge's communications adviser. "But on the Hill, you deal, you make these concessions."
FEMA's ambitious expansion plans were put on hold.
"First, we were told we need to strengthen ourselves," lamented Leo Bosner, the head of FEMA's employee union. "Then, no, no, stop everything."
FEMA did get a few new responsibilities, including the FBI's National Domestic Preparedness Office, as well as the National Disaster Medical System and the national drug stockpile from the Department of Health and Human Services. But the FBI stripped most of the NDPO's staff before sending it over to the new department, and after an emotional appeal from HHS Secretary Tommy G. Thompson, Ridge agreed to send back the drug stockpile.
Now FEMA was supposed to morph into the new department's Emergency Preparedness and Response directorate. FEMA's director would be the directorate's undersecretary and would shed his FEMA title once FEMA vanished.
But that was Mike Brown's job. And he had different plans.
Brown was a political operative before he was a horse specialist, staffing a committee in the Oklahoma legislature and chairing the Oklahoma Municipal Power Authority. And after two years working for Allbaugh as general counsel and then deputy director, Brown thought he understood Washington well enough to know that if FEMA lost its unique identity -- its "brand" -- it would lose its power. At his swearing-in in February 2003, days before the official birth of DHS, he vowed to fight to make sure that FEMA remained FEMA.
But Ridge and his aides were eager to create a unified DHS brand that would signify the integration of its assorted parts. Congress had prohibited them from tinkering with the Coast Guard or the Secret Service, but FEMA was fair game, and they saw Brown's resistance to a name change as part of a larger resistance to integration within DHS. Lawlor, Ridge's chief of staff, said he resented all the time he wasted on Brown's "guerrilla warfare."