Donald E. Powell, chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. and a major Texas backer of President Bush, was named federal coordinator of long-term hurricane recovery efforts on the Gulf Coast, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff announced yesterday.
Powell, 64, will report to the president through Chertoff and be the main federal contact for Congress, state, local and private leaders in supporting "mid and long-term recovery and rebuilding plans," such as economic development and infrastructure reconstruction, Chertoff said in a statement.
Powell will take over as soon as he ties up work at the FDIC, which he joined in 2001, downsized and was scheduled to leave in August. Chertoff said he expects Coast Guard Vice Adm. Thad W. Allen to "transition out" of his role as principal federal coordinator of short-term recovery operations by the end of this year.
"Don has the leadership, ideas and optimism that the residents of the Gulf Coast Region deserve," Chertoff said.
Bush also established a Gulf Coast Recovery and Rebuilding Council at the White House, to be led by Allan B. Hubbard, head of the National Economic Council and assistant to the president for economic policy.
Wary of empowering a potential critic, administration officials from Vice President Cheney down have previously rejected calls by Republican senators and House members to name a federal recovery "czar" since Hurricane Katrina hit the region on Aug. 29.
But the administration's handling of the disaster has drawn increasingly broad complaints. Last week, U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Thomas J. Donahue criticized a lack of federal coordination and warned that failure to speed repairs to roads, levees, infrastructure and housing would prevent employers from returning.
Powell is well known to the president and raised more than $100,000 for Bush's 2000 presidential campaign. He was chief executive of First National Bank of Amarillo, Tex., and head of the city's Chamber of Commerce. He was named chairman of Texas A&M University's board of regents in 1995 by then-Gov. Bush.
"He's not a czar. He's just a coordinator," said Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), who, with Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), favors the move. "I think they've chosen the title well."
Democrats were critical, calling for a nonpartisan leader reporting directly to Bush.
"This appointment is business as usual and shows that the Gulf recovery is not a top priority for the president," said Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.). "Mr. Powell may be an accomplished banker and political fundraiser, but according to the administration he has no disaster-recovery experience."
Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) said: "It is ironic and strange that an administration that has had so little success in responding to Hurricane Katrina thinks it can solve the problem by adding another layer of bureaucracy."