Tuesday, April 20, 2010

So When Did He/She Last See the President?

The All-Important FACE time! When the Executive Branch is determining the real players from those who are just actors short term on the stage they look at two things. First does he/she administering a cabinet department or independent agency or subcabinet agency ever see the President. Second do they have the wherewithal and clout to veto anyone sent over to fill a political job under them from White Personnel or do they just have to grin and bear it? Even better can they pick their subordinates? These factors described above are in fact the real pecking order in Washington and all the insiders know it but it does not receive much coverage in the press just as private foibles used to never reach the MSM for those in power.
Okay why even mention this is in a blog on FEMA? First only one FEMA
Director or Administrator had real connections and clout with the President he served. Specifically James Lee Witt who served from April 1993 to January 2001. To my knowledge he was the only FEMA Director actually sworn in by the President in the White House. Most if not all other FEMA Directors or Administrators did not get sworn in by the President or even in the White House. He also was not even the choice of WH Personnel for FEMA Director but was in fact the personal choice of President Clinton. Long-standing friends who even ate popcorn and watched movies together IN THE WHITE HOUSE Director Witt turned out to be an unsung gem in the Clinton Adminstration to the dismay of the Republicans who then spent almost a decade trying to make sure FEMA went out of business just because it had been a Clinton-Witt success story from the point of view of most.
The first FEMA Director, John Macy, a former head of the US Civil Service Commission was selected by President Carter during the summer of 1979 to head the newly created FEMA when perhaps over a dozen had already turned it down. It is not certain exactly who swore in John Macy as FEMA Director but appears to not have been the President and not in the White House. He certainly not only did not get to pick his subordinates but in fact had most of the key ones transferred in from the predecessor agencies, such as FPA [Federal Preparedness Agency] from GSA, FIA {Federal Insurance Adminstrator] and FDAA (Federal Disaster Administration] from HUD and also the members of the President's Reorganization Project Staff. Relatively young but relatively senior civil servants of which the best was the Director Nye Stevens who chose deliberately not to go to the new agency and forged an outstanding career later in the federal bureacracy.
Then of course the REAGAN ADMINISTRATION arrived. The Reagan Transition Team for FEMA had been led by Dr. Robert Kupperman, an expert on domestic terrorism and former OEP Intern in the mid-60's. His mentor Drew Lewis who became Secretary of Transportation was unable to achieve the placement of Dr. Kupperman in FEMA because a protege of Edward Meese, first Couselor to the President and then AG placed his fellow Californian and friend Louis O. Guiffrida in the Directorship. He also swore in Guiffrida, and in fact throughout the time that Guiffrida served in reported through Meese to the President. Almost never seeing the President and certainly not able to pick his subordinates although he did have some level of counterpart clearance.
Retired 3-star Julius Becton who was head of the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance in AID became the second FEMA Director under President Reagan and then President Bush from November 1985 to June 1989. He also reported through Meese to the White House and had no say in picking is key Associate Directors and was finally to meet President Bush in the so-called TANK at the Pentagon shortly before his departure. Director Wallace Stickney was selected by White House Chief of Staff John SUNNUNU former Governor of N. Hampshire and was sworn in by the Chief of Staff but almost never saw President Bush and certainly had no say in picking his subordinates.
Well President George W. Bush did pick his Director of FEMA and did swear him in but did not give him authority to pick his subordinates except as counterpart clearance. Joseph Allbaugh had directed certain activities for Bush while Bush was Governor of TEXAS and then been the nuts and bolts guy for Bush on his Presidential campaign. According to reliable reports Karl Rove and Karen Hughes both powers during the Bush era did everything possible to see that Joe Allbaugh had no White House portfolio under Bush and he {Allbaugh] almost declined the FEMA job as being beneath his self-importance. How much communication occurred on official matters after his appoint with the President is very very vague.
And of course now FEMA is again a sub-cabinet agency in DHS. It is unclear of whether the Secretary DHS has allowed or been comfortable with Fugate direct communication with the WH but appearances suggest that the one power FUGATE does not have is the ability to pick up the phone and call the President. The precise power that allowed Director James Lee Witt to become the most successful FEMA Director and the fact that others in Washington knew such calls would be answered by the President gave the FEMA Director his clout as well as President Clinton naming James Lee Witt as an EX OFFICIO member of the cabinet in his second term.
So don't ask for whom the bell tolls bureacratically! Just ask is a President likely to use the FEMA Adminstrator to lead a crisis or catastrophic disaster response if he does not trust him enough to have sworn him in, take his calls, or pick his subordinates? That is the real story of FEMA and its time in the Executive Branch.