Sunday, July 11, 2010

Profiles--The General Counsels--The Political GCs

Correction and supplement:
In September 1994 a new GC arrived directly from being a staffer in the White House Personnel Office. John Carey. He was to serve until leaving for a job with the former MBNA in Delaware and Wilmington his home town. He served until June 1997. Or perhaps slightly earlier in the spring. During his tenure he selected Michael B. Hirsch as a new SES Deputy General Counsel. Mike was a career civil servant and he became the first Deputy GC to be SES since the Departure of Don Young. When Don departed I negotiated for George Jett a deal with FEMA Personnel and others to trade Don's SES slot for grade 15's and they became the first non-supervisiory 15s in the Office. That said Mike had long and faithfully served FEMA and the disaster relief effort since joining FEMA on September 10th, 1979, coming from HUD as I did. Mike had come to HUD originally from the GAO! Over time he became the leading specialist on grant law and the Stafford Act in the office. He also had conducted flood litigation and other roles including being the Insurance and Mitigation Associate GC for an extended period. So Mike was well prepared to be the Deputy.

John Carey and Mike were a successful team and they accomplished one mission for the GC office that was crucially necessary. The establishment and operation of a DAE Attorney Field Cadre. This alleviated some of the constant stress on HQ GC ops which from the beginning was chronically understaffed and underfunded in particular after Chairman Boland ordered a line item cut in the OGC budget in FY84. The relatively newly and acquired with great difficulty Regional Counsels in the 5 largest regions of FEMA were terminated and their work loads reabsorbed in HQs.

John Carey left in December 1996, Mike became Acting GC in the following period and was followed in July 1997 by Ernest Abbott who had been involved in an Energy Law practice and was a Harvard Law School grad. Son of an academic, Ernie served until the Administration departed on January 20, 2001. His favorite FEMA program was the NFIP [National Flood Insurance Program] and devoted much time and attention to that program, the first GC to do so in FEMA's history.

In late January 2001, Michael Brown was sworn in as the new GC of FEMA. He was hired and recruited by Joseph Allbaugh who was to serve as FEMA Director until March 1, 2003, when DHS started operations. At some point in time, Michael Brown left the GC position and became the Senate Confirmed Deputy Director of FEMA and served in that position until becoming the Under Secretary for Emergency Preparednes and Response in the new Department of Homeland Security on March 1, 2003.

When Michael Brown left OGC to become Deputy Director of FEMA, Mark Wallace, who was also political and was part of the Florida recount)became Acting GC. When Mark Wallace left Jordan Fried was Acting GC for about 6 months before David Trissell appointment.

A senior staff attorney in OGC David Trissel became a career SES GC. Michael Hirsch earlier had departed OGC in late spring of 2001 to become an SES in the disaster programs of FEMA. No deputy GC served until Adrian Sevier became a career DEPUTY GC at the SES level in 2006. He still serves in that position. The newest GC is now Brad Kieserman, a career Coast Guard JAG officer and now a career SES in FEMA. His appointment succeeded David Trissel who is now on a NATO assignment in Brussels. David was 14 years total in various positons in OGC and OCC of FEMA.
Some may ask how the different individuals, career and non-career came to run OGC in FEMA and then the Office of the Chief Counsel, FEMA, reporting to the GC of DHS. I hope this series of blogs explains that line of succession to some degree.

However, in the interest of full disclosure I was interviewed by a White House official not to be named after a fiasco over the position of FEMA on the license application and off-site safety of the Seabrook Nuclear Power station. I was a fact witness in that proceeding and my testimony in both deposition and before the Licensing Board, both conducted under oath are a matter of record. Despite being a fuzzy headed liberal I seemed to get the most WH calls when the Republicans were in power. I was asked directly the question and told my answer was very important by the WH individual who interviewed me--the question being "should the GC of FEMA be a political appointee"? Here is the answer I gave almost verbatim to the extent I remember it.

"First I have served under many political officials some directly and indirectly and some were wonderful appointees. The best I ever served under was Carla Hills when Secretary of HUD in the Ford Administration. My test for the political appointees (and perhaps even the civil servants) do they understand they have crossed the line from politics and now serve in an essentially nonpartisan position. Their service is to the American people, not to party loyalty or even necessarily the Administration. They should be loyal to their bosses but more important they should always give their best legal position even while explaining there may be a range of options.

Because I had seen career SES GC's rolled by politicals, despite their excellent lawyer and even loyalty to their bosses, they had been dismissed from key discussion in which they should have been present because a lawyer was needed to help inform the decision process. I recommended to the WH on that basis that a non-career GC for FEMA would give the Office more clout, minimize errors in decision makeing and also serve as a liaison for the WH counsel's office into the agency. Several times Career SES GC's because of reluctance to call the WH Counsel had left the agency hanging in a perilous way. Part of this was probably personality and part was experience. None-the-less for an agency life FEMA which is in direct support of WH civil crisis management and direct response and recovery this is a very necessary ingredient of the GC job." Note however I have now been retired almost 11 years and I have no understanding of how the Chief Counsel FEMA relates to the GC DHS. Perhaps the fact that the last two Chief Counsels of FEMA are career is indicative of a different assessment by both Republicans and Democrats in and out of office as to FEMA's importance. None-the-less to me it is an indicator that FEMA has less clout even as the new FEMA under PKEMA 2006!

I suspect however that the FEMA lawyering jobs are still as difficult and controversial and laden with policy as they were in my 20 years. So my hopes and prayers go out to Brad and Adrian to persevere in what is a complex and difficult piece of lawyering.