During his two years as director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency during President Bush's first term, Joe M. Allbaugh traveled to Louisiana for a series of disasters, from tropical storms Allison and Isidore to Hurricane Lili.
Yesterday, Allbaugh, now head of his own Washington lobbying and consulting firm, was in Baton Rouge, La., helping his clients get business from perhaps the worst natural disaster in the nation's history.
Allbaugh said he was there "just trying to lend my shoulder to the wheel, trying to coordinate some private-sector support that the government always asks for." In the case of one client, UltraStrip Systems Inc., a Florida company, Allbaugh said he persuaded "them down here" to present the case for a water filtration system.
"I'll tell them, 'Here are the list of entities [that might buy the system] that are in town, here is where they are -- go to it.' "
Allbaugh said he advises clients on how to present their product or service to government agencies. "I tell them how to best craft their pitch, to craft their technical expertise so everybody knows exactly what they do."
He does not personally approach any government agencies about contracts, he said. "I don't do government contracts," Allbaugh asserted in a telephone interview.
After leaving FEMA in March 2003, Allbaugh, who managed the 2000 Bush-Cheney campaign, founded Allbaugh Co., a lobbying-consulting firm with many clients in the disaster-relief business.
Among those clients are: the KBR division of Haliburton; TruePosition, a manufacturer of wireless location products, services and devices; the Shaw Group, a provider of engineering, design, construction, and maintenance services to government and the private sector; and UltraStrip, which is marketing the first water filtration system approved by the Environmental Protection Agency.
The firm's Web site quotes Allbaugh: "I carry pictures of close friends who died in the September 11th terrorist attacks as a constant reminder of what we lost that day. It's my personal commitment to always honor their memory by working to protect this nation. I'm dedicated to helping private industry meet the homeland security challenge."
The company, according to the Web site, "develops integrated business management campaigns that create new opportunities, expand competitive advantage and guide our clients through the federal procurement process."
In Baton Rouge, Allbaugh may run into another former FEMA director, James Lee Witt, who served in the Clinton administration and has been hired by Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco (D) as a consultant.
In 2001, Witt founded James Lee Witt Associates, a crisis- and emergency-management consulting firm in Washington. Its clients include Nextel Communications, Whelen Engineering Co. Inc., and the Harris Corp.
"Being able to arrange an audience with influential decision makers at the highest levels is the stock in trade in Washington and a privilege James Lee Witt and his team are proud to have and one not taken for granted," the Witt firm boasts on its Web site.
Since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and the creation of the Homeland Security Department, disaster relief has become big business in Washington. On the U.S. Senate lobby-registration site, there are roughly 240 businesses and lobbyists seeking to influence contracting and policies related to disaster relief. Few of them, however, have Allbaugh's experience or can advertise their close connections to Bush.
On June 3, UltraStrip announced that it had formed a "business-development agreement" with Allbaugh. Stephen R. Johnson, UltraStrip CEO, declared: "Joe Allbaugh's domestic and international government experience, his work as Bush-Cheney 2000 Campaign Manager and as a founding member of the president's Homeland Security Advisory Council make him a unique and indispensable guide."
In a statement responding to an inquiry, KBR said the company "hired Joe Allbaugh in February 2005 as a consultant to provide strategy support to its Government and Infrastructure business. Since that time, Mr. Allbaugh has not consulted on any specific contracts that the company is considering pursuing, nor has he been tasked by the company with any lobbying responsibilities."
In addition to Allbaugh Co., Allbaugh in 2003 was a founder of New Bridge Strategies, to help businesses develop opportunities in Iraq, and Diligence-Iraq, to provide security for civilians in the Middle East. That business has now expanded into Europe and Asia. He said yesterday the security company has done well, but New Bridge Strategies has been on hold because companies are reluctant to invest in Iraq.