CORRECTED VERSION: FEMA was an independent Executive Branch agency from April 1, 1979 to March 1, 2003. During that period and even before and after certain personalities and skills and competencies and lack thereof heavily influenced how the agency developed and operated. I have chosen to start with my former bosses during my tenure in FEMA from September 10, 1979 to my retirement on October 1, 1999. I will try and give an honest assessment but always remember my bias since I worked for them and most of the time were my immediate supervisor. So my first but not last profile will be of George W. Jett, the General Counsel of FEMA from its inception until his departure from that position, but not FEMA in July 1985.
George became a lawyer after completing night law school at GWU while working in procurement in DOD. He was physically a handsome man who was skilled both at golf and tennis. While a scholarship freshman at the U. Kentucky he was was matched against Jack Nicklaus and defeated him. Raised in Kentucky and a deeply religious man at least superficially, he led FEMA prayer breakfasts throughout his tenure, he often remarked of his interest in going to the seminary but never did. Once completing law school, and no novice in procurement, George went to first OMB then the HILL and then back to become the General Counsel of the Defense Civil Preparedness Agency which housed the Federal Civil Defense Act of 1950, Public Law 920 of the 81st Congress. He became the GC of DCPA in 1976. Shortly after the election of President James Earl Carter he was selected to be a key member of the President's Reorganization Project Team that led to the formulation and adoption of Reorganization Project No. 3 of 1978. Most of the team members which including Nye Stevens, later a GAO office director and the most talented of the team, William Jones, an OMB staffer formerly a civil servant in New Jersey, Robert Volland, the fiscal/budget manager at FDAA [Federal Disaster Assistance Administration] in HUD, Dave McGloughlin, the head of the Civil Defense College in Battle Creek, Michigan, and a PhD in education and some others were the core of the team. While not all treated the project as a country club atmosphere some did. One who definitely worked late nights and weekends as was his ususal, was William W.F.Jones who wants me to make clear and deserves to have his reputation unsullied by my casual comment. So be it. Bill worked very hard on the Reorganization as did some others and in many way became a model for reorganizations. The fact that no one involved in the DHS creation did much research into the FEMA reorg is probably one reason many many DHS problems are replays of FEMA startup problems. Hey those who forget history are condemned to relive it. Still much tennis and golf were played by other members of the team. The two OMB Reps, Nye Stevens and Mike Springer were the real drive sprockets for the whole effort. Mike unfortunately lost out to Volland as FEMA's first Comptroller and did not join FEMA. The final reorg product went to Congress on May 20, 1978, and not being disapproved by either house of Congress became law in September 1978, and was implemented April 1, 1979.
The legal team that assisted George from time to time included me, Michael Hirsch, Craig Annear, John Scheibel from HUD. From FPA [Federal Preparedness Agency] it included its General Counsel Don Young, and Spence W. Perry. Invidividual legal taskers would be issued from time to time by George and produced largely by this team. Most of the work product was not of particularly high quality largely due to the fact that none of the team members was relieved of day jobs so to speak in their home agencies. The Acting General Counsel of DCPA William Harding and his two cohorts,George W. Watson [later Acting GC of FEMA for a significant time and a significant period in FEMA's history] and William T. Booker both once with him at Battle Creek where DCPA or its predecessor had been located until relocation to DC in 1957 acted to provide most of the heavy lifting since George was still on paper their boss.
As the highest ranking lawyer in HUD to come to FEMA eventually, all the HUD lawyers having to apply for jobs with George while others were transferred in the OMB determination order, essentially George came to me first when tasking either for FDAA or FIA [Federal Insurance Administraton] the two components later to be included in FEMA from HUD.
Essentially the work consisted of weekly briefings of George and complying with his taskers. Mostly it was listing and giving some analysis of statutes that might be incorporated into FEMA.
As head of the President's Reorg team, Nye Stevens, supported by George promised Carter that 400 overhead positions in the predecessor agencies would be given up on the creation of FEMA. FEMA never really recovered from that decision. For example, the General Counsel of HUD Ruth T. Prokop had created a timesheet system for each attorney to complete. At the time of the key events of late 1977 and early 1978, 14 attorneys showed almost complete time and effort devoted to FDAA and FIA issues. George was given these documents but told Nye Stevens that 8 FTE slots from HUD was all that was necessary. That in itself helped destroy the effectiveness of FEMA's GC ops in the early years. Nonetheless, this time frame did result in an implementable reorganization despite President Carter when checking the approval block personally wrote the word "reluctantly" at the edge of the block.
George did have two strengths. First his knowledge of procurement and its dangers to appointed officials. Second his knowledge of Congress and its operations. He had worked as a staffer for Senator William Roth of Delaware, a distinguished Senator and Republican for several years. While to some extent a liberal Republican George throughout his time in government was never a Presidential or non-career appointee but a civil servant.
George confided to me that he was worried about keeping his job during the first REAGAN Administration but almost by accident he secured his position with Louis O. Guiffrida, Reagan's first FEMA Director. Late one afternoon in late spring of 1981 in a daily staff meeting, George abruptly announced to LOG and others that he had to leave early to attend church. After George's departure I later learned that he was discussed in depth by what most referred to as the California Mafia that had been brought in by LOG. That group itself is worthy of analysis and such will follow in due time. In fact LOG brought in some very very capable people to FEMA. At any rate the group discussed George in detail and whether he should stay as the GC. Donald Young was an obvious choice if George was not kept since his Republican credentials were above reproach and in fact he had guided the defense and operations of GSA on the Nixon Tapes FOIAs and other related Watergate issues. He was the career SES Deputy GC in FEMA until his departure to become Deputy Inspector General at another agency in early 90's. He was FEMA's best lawyer by far. At any rate the group concluded that George was an a religious Evangelical and was "connected" to the large group of evangelical appointees brought to federal service by President Reagan. So George stayed on.
George for reasons unknown had no interest or desire to know anything about FEMA's national security portfolio and that was left completely to Don Young and Spence Perry. During that period I was running the bulk of FEMA's civil litigation portfolio. This decision left George who did have an instinct for bureacratic infighting and operations out to see when the National Security Portfolio of FEMA became the dominant player in the FEMA of REAGAN's first Term. There were also NO landfalling hurricanes in REAGAN's first three years a remarkable fact since the only other President to be so lucky was either Calvin Coolidge or Herbert Hoover. NOAA records would record that detail.
LOG had substantially reorganized FEMA in September 1981, elimination the Mitigation and Research Directorate completely and reasigning its staff.
Agency records show that Colonel Ollie North entered FEMA HQ 44 time in the early 80's. That was in part because of the creation of the EMPB [Emergency Mobilization Preparedness Board] and interagency group mandated by Presidential memo and later designed to implement NSDD-47. But it is alleged that LOG and Ollie North were involved in gunrunning to the Contras in Nicarauga during that civil war. This was never proved and I was tasked to see if any mention of FEMA was made in the vast hearings on that subject conducted by Congressman Jack Brooke of Texas. No mention was ever made of FEMA except where as Chair Congressman Brooks refused to allow discussion of FEMA's COG program on the record. That program did not involve Contra support.
LOG was the longest serving FEMA Director until the service of James L. Witt. LOG career ended when he was investigate closely for kickbacks from contractor and the famous "stove" and apartment in Emmittsburg at the National Fire Academy and Emergency Management Institute both under the title the National Emergency Training Center formed when FEMA bought the campus of ST. Joseph's College for Women. Then Congressman Gore, later VP under Bill Clinton, led the charge. The Science Committee in the HOUSE for which Gore was chair had oversight because it had oversight of the Fire Prevention and Control Act of 1974, as amended.
When LOG recieved a formal letter from DOJ stating he was the target of a Grand Jury investigation and should retain counsel, George brought the letter to me asking me if he could represent LOG. I stated that no Civil Service lawyer or appointee or employee could ever represent anyone in or out of government on a criminal matter. George himself was worried that he might end up as a recipient of such a letter from DOJ but that never happened. What did happen is that Chairman Edward Boland of the Appropriations Committee in the House sent to the White House a list of persons to be dismissed from FEMA and also ordered a reduction in the line item accounts of the GC's office in FEMA. This cost George his job, although not his salary immediately since he was reassigned elsewhere in FEMA. LOG was obviously dismissed and a number of others. The line item reduction by Boland for the GC office cost that office the five (5) regional counsel positions which I had helped establish over the dissent of almost the entirety of the rest of the GC leadership and staff.
A complicated person, George was capable in many ways but the seeds of future problems were embedded by him in many ways for his office and FEMA. Still the record of the service deserves much more attention than possible to give on a blog. George was definitely a part of FEMA history and his being picked officially as the Career SES GC of FEMA by John W. Macy, Carter's choice as Director of FEMA influenced heavily FEMA's history.