Joe M. Allbaugh, the no-nonsense member of President Bush's "iron triangle" of advisers who orchestrated his presidential run, said yesterday he will step down in March as director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
He is part of a growing group of administration officials who are leaving their jobs in order to help Bush's re-election effort.
The gruff-talking Allbaugh, dubbed the "master of disaster" during his Texas days as Bush's top aide, faced his toughest test after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
He spent days at the rubble where terrorists struck the Pentagon and the World Trade Center. His beefy frame often shook with emotion as he talked about search-and-recovery workers who performed "miracles, quite frankly, on behalf of America."
Bush said in a statement: "After the attacks on our country, America came to know Joe as I do. He is a steady leader, a calm presence, and a man who inspires confidence in a time of crisis. I have trusted Joe in a variety of positions throughout my public life, and he has always met the highest standards of service and integrity."
Allbaugh, 50, told Bush and White House Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr. last summer that he would be leaving his post after the first of the year. He tendered his resignation yesterday afternoon in a meeting with the president.
Allbaugh will leave March 1, when FEMA is scheduled to fold into the new Department of Homeland Security. His deputy, Michael D. Brown, is expected to be a leading candidate to replace Allbaugh as FEMA's chief.
"I have been a longtime advocate for the Department of Homeland Security, and now that it is a reality and the president has a great team in place, I feel I can move on to my next challenge," Allbaugh said.
He has not decided what that next step might be, Allbaugh said. "Now is not the time to make that decision. I'm going to focus on the transition" and problems at FEMA, he said. "There's opportunities in Oklahoma. Several in Texas. Several here. And I want to take my time and make a decision that's in the best interest of my family with a clear mind."
Allbaugh was one of the team of advisers who helped Bush become governor of Texas and president. Senior adviser Karl C. Rove is the last remaining member of the group; Karen P. Hughes left the White House in August to return to Texas.
Hughes and Mary J. Matalin, a top White House official who announced Friday she is leaving, are likely to join Allbaugh as key campaign advisers.
His lawnmower haircut and monosyllabic bluntness gave Allbaugh a drill sergeant's way of keeping Bush's troops in line. He had a reputation among staffers in Bush's gubernatorial and presidential campaigns as the one who rejected spending requests.
"I wanted a tough but fair campaign manager who would keep tight reins on the campaign budget," Bush wrote in his book, "A Charge to Keep: My Journey to the White House."
The hard-nosed style sometimes got Allbaugh in trouble. During flooding in April 2001, he angered Iowans when he asked "how many times the American taxpayer has to step in and take care of this flooding, which could be easily prevented."
Allbaugh has led FEMA through 89 major disasters, beginning with an earthquake registering 6.8 on the Richter scale in Nisqually, Wash., two weeks after he took office in 2001. His agency has helped people recover from disasters as far away as Guam and Micronesia, and has obligated about $7.2 billion in assistance, FEMA says.