Spence W. Perry was no doubt the brightest lawyer in my time in FEMA.Also the laziest. His days largely consisted of reading non FEMA related materials including writing book reviews and studying various histories on various subjects. Like the saying about the German General Staff selection criteria however, you may well want the brightest but laziest soldiers to be your generals. Meaning of course that knowing what to delegate and why and doing so is in fact a great strength in that role. Whether that was the best role play for a woefully understaffed and underskilled OGC in FEMA is open to criticism.
Spence in his earliest teenage years had been a Congressional Page to a powerful Florida congressman. The Page Corps in Spence's years were a wild bunch. Very bright, well-connected and often partying in a manner over their heads or that of most human beings. His undergrad education was at Harvard. His law schooling at Duke. Spence also was a Viet Nam Navy Vet and in the Navy Jag Corps and continued that service in the reserves. Deputy GC Don Young was the Commander of the most prominent Navy Jag unit in the DC area and was in fact the OER reviewer for Spence. Also Bob Brock of OGC was in that unit. Eventually Don Young made the rank of Captain, and Spence and Bob made the rank of Commander. Spence did not make George Jett's first cut in becoming part of FEMA and was deliberately rejected for a position in the GC's office by George. The exact reasons will never be known but in fact there appears to have been some personal animus between the two from Spence's service to the Reorg project.
What George may have overlooked is the deep connections Spence had to the former OEP [Office of Emergency Preparedness] personnel who had once been in the Executive Offices of the White House. Spence had been an intern in that organization and at the behest of General George Lincoln, Ret. who headed OEP for a long time had worked with William Tidball as personal assistants to General Lincoln. They had been a team investigating bias in delivery of disaster relief in the Gulf of Mexico states after Hurricane Camille and a subject of Congressional inquiry. Robert Kupperman was also an intern at the same time and a person that led the Carter to Reagan Transition Team for FEMA and later after OEP an expert on terrorism. In fact the OEP former employees were sort of a fraternity in FEMA and in fact an excellent self protective society. They dreamed of course of their OEP days and a return to the WH.
Spence had relocated from the FPA GC's Office to the GC's Office of the Department of Energy where he was on the ropes for a number of reasons. That latter office was a mess during most of its early years and perhaps Spence's problems were just a reflection of that disarray as DOE had a rough start after its creation.
So how did Spence get to FEMA. The President's reorg project had considered and made no decision on the off-site safety role of FPA and NRC with respect to nuclear power plants. In my formal deposition under oath and in testimony before a NRC ASLB I testified that Three Mile Island (TMI) had been the beginning of FEMA's involvement in the REP (Radiological Preparedness Program). This testimony was wrong since I have since seen a formal report of the President's Reorg Project Team creating FEMA that formally considered this program for inclusion in the FEMA portfolio long before TMI! That core melt accident by the way was never a declared disaster although I was asked to front for HUD and FEMA with GAO defending use of the DRF to fund advance preparations should a disaster be declared and also to help with the spontaneous evacuation that occurred.
Spence was needed in FEMA because in 1980 and 1981 the REP program was consuming much of the agencies time, remember almost no natural disasters after Mt. ST. Helens in May 1980, but there was of course the Mariel Boatlift. George Jett came to me about staffing REP which required and intellect and energy that was not available from GC at the time not due to the competence of the staff but due to other priorities. George handed me some background on Spence whom I did not know except very vaguely at that time. His key program law position had been vacated by the departure of Craig Annear to EPA and Don Young. I begged George to hire Spence to cover at least the REP activity. Another fine lawyer inherited from the Chief Counsel staff of the Fire Administration prior to FEMA had also departed. He had been the REP lawyer. My Regional Counsels were not yet fully operative on REP and would not be for some time. I should say FEMA GC regional counsels. So Spence was hired as a GS-15 and headed the Program Law portfolio with George Watson, Bill Harding, Michael Hirsch and others reporting to him. He was however the principle national security and REP lawyer in headquarters.
Spence had gone to ICAF (Industrial College of the Armed Forces) in July 1985. Just after his arrival, Director Guiffrida and George Jett were relieved of their jobs, mandated in part by Chairman Boland and agreed to by the WH.
After 12 years of running FIA and FEMA litigation I was burned out and asked George W. Jett if I could replace Spence on an acting basis. George agreed so for one month I headed the Program Law Division in OGC.
During his time in FEMA, Spence with some caculation no doubt had befriended Robert M. Morris, the Senate confirmed Deputy of FEMA. When LOG left, Morris became Acting Director until the arrival of Julius Becton on November 9, 1986, as Director. Morris recalled Spence from ICAF to become the Acting GC of FEMA, a postion that was career SES and announced and filled (by Spence) over the next year. George W. Watson was recalled from his position in the immediate office of the Director FEMA and made the head of the Program Law Division, and to which I reported. Of course this disrupted by career plans since I planned to leave FEMA after the year Spence would have been away since I was not enamoured with the portfolio or personalities either in FEMA generally or the GC's office. More on that later.
Then in September 1986 I returned from my first real vacation time in FEMA, a month with family in the Pacific Northwest. I was called at home by Watson and told that with the termination of the Regional Counsels I would be assigned to the Shoreham Nuclear Power station administrative litigation and should report to FEMA Region II to accomplish that task. Essentially I was gone most of the time during the next 2 and 1/2 years conducting that litigation and other REP matters. Strangely, I was asked by Spence and George to interface quite often with DOJ on FEMA matters and also the National Security Counsel staff. So while they were essentially additional duties they were very interesting duties.
Then in early spring 1988 Spence had a nervous breakdown and was relieved of his position as GC of FEMA, in part because of his loss of all security clearances.
Julius Becton made George W. Watson the Acting General Counsel and that will become a later edition of this profile series. Spence came back to the OGC of FEMA as Ating GC in January 1993 when William Tidball was Acting Director of FEMA before James Lee Witt's arrival and he stayed on until September 1994 when John Carey arrived as the Presidentially appointed GC for FEMA. Not Senate Confirmed however. John will also be the subject of a later profile. When John arrived Spence briefly was Acting Federal Insurance Administrator and retired from that office if memory is correct and it may not be.