As Hurricane Irene battered East Coast states over the weekend, the Obama administration frequently noted how the “federal family” — not the “federal government” or “federal agencies” — responded to the storm.

The term appeared in White House news releases and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said Sunday that she was “making sure that the entire federal family is working as one to support the affected states.”

Some White House reporters — not as familiar with government operations beyond 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. — noticed the branding and surmised that the Obama administration used the term in lieu of the less popular “federal government” mantra.

“FEMA is like an uncle to me,” Fox News White House reporter Ed Henry tweeted jokingly on Sunday.

Joking aside, “federal family” dates back to at least 2004 and is used often by top officials.

Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Craig Fugate likes to remind people that his agency works with several federal entities after major disasters.

“We have to really look at how do we support our local officials through our governors — how we work together as the federal family of agencies for the president and for the secretary in supporting those governors,” Fugate said in May 2009.

A few months later after hosting a Latino leadership summit, Fugate said that “Only by engaging the entire federal family, state and local government, faith-based and non-profit organizations, and especially the public, can we successfully respond to, and recover from a major disaster.”

Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry also likes the term. In May 2009, OPM said that a new federal long term care insurance deal “offers flexible benefit options to meet the diverse needs of the federal family.”

At a meeting a few months later on the federal government’s employment of military veterans, Berry said “Keeping their skills and dedication in the federal family isn’t just right. ... It makes good business sense, as well.”

So who used the term first?

The honor appears to go to Michael Brown — yes, the guy that George W. Bush said did a “heckuva job” after Hurricane Katrina. In 2004 after Hurricane Ivan, Brown said that “FEMA and the federal family are committed to providing assistance where it is needed.”

Consider it one of the lasting legacies of the Bush years, if you will.

Now, let’s pick up on Ed Henry’s joke — if the federal government really is a family, what would that make the White House? Or FEMA? Or the State Department? Share your proposed federal family tree in the comments section below.

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