Friday, July 30, 2010

Profiles-The Independent FEMA-Acting Director Robert Morris

There was no Senate Confirmed Deputy Director of FEMA under its first Director John Macy. The position was an ES Level IV-the same as the four principal Associate Directors and held the longest by Robert Morris, Jerry Jennings, and Harvey Ryland. Michael Brown was also confirmed as the Deputy Director of FEMA, but never as the Director. A rather complex statute entitled the VACANCY ACT substantially revised in 1998 and designed to prevent the Executive Branch denying the Senate its perogatives to Advise and Consent to certain high-ranking appointees by having Acting Heads of Agencies or even subordinate positions for more than 120 days except in the first year following a Presidential election the statute's enforcement is left to GAO. Other than using RECESS APPOINTMENTS, having individuals not confirmed to a position act in that position is one way the government continues to function without breaking stride. Under the VACANCY ACT the independent FEMA, when it had a Deputy Director, that person was the designated First Principal and acted when the position of Director was vacant or when the incumbent was incapacitated. Oddly its most important impact maybe on the so-called COG program, Continuity of Government and to my knowledge I was one of the few in government that understood its possible impacts on COG. COG will be discussed later on this blog.

At any rate, Robert Morris was confirmed as Deputy Director of FEMA in the first REAGAN ADMINISTRATION, and was living evidence that Director Guiffrida did not control who the political appointees were in FEMA under a counterpart clearance rule. In other words, if the President's White House Personnel shop sent over a name that was it. Helene Van Damm later Ambassador to Switzerland was REAGAN's first personnel director and she established the rule ratified by the President that NO civil service personnel would rise to a political appointee position under REAGAN. Several senior civil servants, unaware of this bright line test, had wanted to become FEMA Director, and of course Dr. Robert Kupperman's campaign for that job has also been discussed.

So why discuss Morris at all. He was a classic liberal northeast Republican, once owner of a specialty steel company that went bankrupt, and also a one time defeated candidate for Congress. He actually came to his FEMA job from a position as head of the Minority Business Enterprise Office in the Department of Commerce. No comment on a WASP having that job in the first REAGAN ADMINISTRRATION. At any rate upon his confirmation and arrival, Director Guiffrida put out the word that no one was to include Morris in meetings or even engage in anything other than polite conversation. Since the Director and Deputy Director's offices adjoined clearly this dictum was enforceable and was enforced.
When Director Guiffrida, departed unwilling and under a cloud in the summer of 1985, Robert Morris became acting Director of FEMA and that lasted just long enough to prevent me from being the GC of FEMA, perhaps. He selected as the career Deputy GC Spence W. Perry who returned from ICAF when the GC was also fired, and Spence was confirmed as the civil service SES in the OGC the following summer. At that point in time the GC job was a career reserved position. Morris stayed as Acting Director until Julius Becton was confirmed by the Senate and sworn in the first week or so of November 1985. In interviewing for the Deputy GC job which in fact was for the GC job Morris asked me what clubs I belonged to. When I said none I knew that litmus test for being a REPUBLICAN in mufti I failed miserably. Well the bottom line is I am not a joiner. Although when Director Guiffrida announced that anyone who was a member of GREENPEACE would lose their security clearance I told the GC that I was going to join as fast as possible. Actually held a clearance for 27 of 34 years of federal service.
Robert Morris' 15 minutes of fame was not up however, because when Director Becton was asked to resign in June 1989 for crossing up with the White House Chief of Staff on Nuclear Power issues, Seabrook specifically, Morris again became the Acting Director of FEMA. Little did he know that the long gap in large scale disasters for FEMA throughout most of the eighties was about to end with the advent of Hurricane Hugo and the Loma Prieta Earthquake. FEMA did not perform well in either of these two events but hey the organization was rusty after a long dry spell.
Then in late spring 1990,Jerry Jennings was confirmed by the Senate as Deputy Director, and MORRIS trundeld off into retirement in New Mexico. Actually, Morris was a gentleman and well meaning but unfortunately as is often the case the nicest people that are appointees are often the most incompetent. Study that issue you public administration scholars. Morris was heavily criticized at least twice for following the instructions of Senator Robert Byrd for declared disasters in W.VA and being too generous to someone from the opposite party. Well we all make our choices.

Jerry Jennings was to be Acting Director for less than 120 days. And Harvey Ryland was never Acting Director. Michael Brown service as Acting Director of FEMA I am uncertain about. All PAS [Presidentially Appointed Senate Confirmed Positions] that existed in the independent FEMA, a total of eleven (11) ended when abolished effective March 1, 2003 by the Homeland Security Act of 2002.