FEMA Appointment to Be a Napolitano Priority

The next director of FEMA is likely to have more relevant experience than Michael Brown had when he was appointed.
The next director of FEMA is likely to have more relevant experience than Michael Brown had when he was appointed. (By Charlie Riedel -- Associated Press)
By Al Kamen
Thursday, January 22, 2009

Confirmed by the Senate on Tuesday, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano is quickly closing in on several top appointments at the sprawling department. One of her first priorities outside of the top DHS staff is likely to be the Federal Emergency Management Agency, our colleague Spencer S. Hsu reports.

Besides serving as the president's top adviser during domestic disasters, the next FEMA chief will be under the gun as Congress, Napolitano and the White House debate whether to make FEMA a stand-alone agency or to reorganize it. FEMA also is still rebuilding from its disastrous response to Hurricane Katrina under then-Director Michael D. Brown and subsequent reorganizations.

People in the running to lead the nation's disaster response arm are said to include Ellis M. Stanley Sr., general manager of the Los Angeles emergency preparedness department, and Joseph F. Bruno, commissioner of New York City's office of emergency management, according to sources who have spoken with Obama transition officials.

Others said to be in the mix at one point included Bruce Baughman, former director of the Alabama emergency management agency; W. Craig Fugate, director of the Florida division of emergency management; and Mark C. Merritt, a former FEMA official and founding partner of former Clinton FEMA director James Lee Witt's consulting firm. Retired Army Lt. Gen Russel L. Honore, best known for heading the military's response to the Gulf Coast hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005, also has had supporters.

Among other changes, Congress mandated that the FEMA director have five years of management experience and some emergency management experience, a reaction to complaints that FEMA had become a patronage farm stockpiled with political hacks. R. David Paulison, who took over after Brown to repair FEMA when others turned down the job, stepped down yesterday.

If Not Richardson, Who?

Even as President Obama's transition officials pat one another on the back, hand over their BlackBerrys and lock up the doors at transition headquarters, there's still one missing donkey: a commerce secretary-designate.

It's been three weeks since New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson withdrew as the nominee, and Obama has not named a replacement to round out his Cabinet. Many interest groups have been lobbying Obama and his top aides on behalf of their favored candidates, but we're hearing that Obama may be eyeing software executive John W. Thompson.

Sources say Thompson, chief executive and board chairman of Symantec, is being vetted by Obama's transition team.

Still There, for Now

Things seemed to have gotten a bit confused at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, once seen as a backwater but now a serious player on energy matters.

On Jan. 7, the chairman, Joseph T. Kelliher, announced that he was stepping down as chairman on Jan. 20, although his term on the commission "does not end until 2012."

He also said he would "immediately begin to recuse myself from FERC business, as I explore other career opportunities." A smart move, since he would then at least stay on payroll while looking.

Some critics were ecstatic. On Jan. 14, Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, one of Kelliher's harshest detractors, said the resignation "starts dismantling a fatally flawed FERC," according to the New Haven Register. "Under Chairman Kelliher," Blumenthal said, "FERC has been on a lawless and mindless mission to nearly obliterate state rights and approve virtually all energy projects at any cost to the environment and ordinary citizens." Well, hold the enthusiasm.

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