Sunday, July 25, 2010

Profiles-The Independent FEMA Directors- Louis O. Guiffrida

Louis O. Guiffrida, a person with the rank of Brigadier General in the California Self-defense force authorized under Title 32 of the USC and different than the National Guard at the time of his nomination was the head of the California Specialized Training Institute, which still exists. General Guiffrida, as he liked to be called, was a brave man. As a young man he had fought and survived the Pacific War almost during it entirety as a Marine. Post-VJ Day at some point he left the Marines and enlisted in the US Army where he rose to the rank of Lt. Colonel in the Military Police Arm of the Army. My understanding is that he was stationed in Korea during the Korean war and in fact post FEMA ran the Officers Club in Seoul, S. Korea. His wife was at one time employed by the CIA. Quite an intellectual man despite what some assumed he was deeply interested in terrorism and was a college graduate. He gained the nomination for FEMA Director because he was personal friends with Edwin Meese, first a prosecutor in Alameda County, CA and then Attorney General under Governor Reagan in that state.

Perhaps strangely, there was a rival for the FEMA Director position. Dr. Robert Kupperman, now deceased, who had been an intern and employee of the WH OFFICE OF EMERGENCY PLANNING and then renamed the OFFICE OF EMERGENCY PREPAREDNESS. Dr. Kupperman's political Rabbi so to speak was Drew Lewis who became Secretary of Transportation under Ronald Reagan. Basically, Kupperman had led the Carter to Reagan transition team for FEMA and I had a several hour personal interview with him. His transition book apparently never opened by Edwin Meese or perhaps even General Guiffrida recommended that FEMA be downsized and returned to the WH. Dr. Kupperman was also considered an expert on domestic terrorism and periodically assisted Senator Patrick Leahy in holding hearings on that subject over the next decade and a half. They were friends.

I am focusing in this post on the General not on the many interesting subordinates in brought with him from California. He was readily confirmed by the SENATE and in fact wielded power in FEMA long before his confirmation. His friend Edwin Meese was Counselor to the President and then Attorney General of the United States.

Because of perceived needs to elevate FEMA as a policy making organization, and player in both federal law enforcement and national security, Guiffrida was not lacking in ambition for the agency to become a player in those arenas. That did not happen but not for want of trying.
Guiffrida was assisted by MOTHER NATURE and no land-falling hurricanes in the US occurred during the first three years of the REAGAN Administration. This had only happened once before in the early part of the Century according to NOAA records.

These posts are in part to focus on accomplishments not defeats for the various directors. In the case of Guiffrida his first success was in coordination of the EMPB [Emergency Mobilization Preparedness Board] that operated pursuant to Presidential memorandum, and resulted in NSDD-47 as well as a plan as to how to mobilize the US for a variety of incidents events including conventional war. That ultimate goal was never accomplished. And NSDD-188 terminated in part FEMA's role in National Security policy making. Both NSDD's are now unclassified and available on the FAS website. NSDD-47 was the first truly all-hazard document signed off by any US President and for that achievement alone Guiffrida deserves commendation.

An oddity about Guiffrida that probably would have kept him from nomination and confirmation was that he was opposed to nuclear power and feared its dangers. The California Specialized Training Institute was located in San Luis Obispo, CA and had been created in part to teach local and state law enforcement personnel how to deal with riots and civil disorders, which had occurred under Governor Reagan, the worst being those anti-war riots at San Francisco State University. When nuclear power off-site safety issues grew to be huge in FEMA after Carter assigned it the role in off-site safety plan and exercise review, Guiffrida actually conveyed an anti-nuclear power bias throughout the highest levels of the agency. Later after his departure this almost ended FEMA's existence and resulted in the termination of one FEMA Director Julius Becton. Another story for another time.

Guiffrida also tried his best to implement the Carter policy of CRISIS RELOCATION in the civil defense program. The fact that it did not succeed is not because Guiffrida put his best efforts into making it work. It collapsed largely over the failure to control the political fallout from so-called hosting areas for relocatees.

Another major Guiffrida effort was the placement and implementation of the National Emergency Training Center in Emmittsburg, MD hosting both the National Fire Academy and the Emergency Management Institute at the former St. Joseph's College for Women campus which was purchased by FEMA and it was prohibited from locating at the campus of the former Marjorie Webster College in the District of Columbia. He was also able to encourage ground breaking programs in developing curricula in several universities of which there are now over 200 involved in that effort. His efforts to create a western training center in Carson City Nevada failed to be accomplished but again not because he did not try his best to get that center and bring it to fruition.

But perhaps the most outstanding accomplishment of Guiffrida was to consolidate the headquarters operations at 500 C St.,S.W. This allowed the HQ staff to meet each other on a regular basis and was located in an ideal position for dealing with Congress and other departments and agencies.

The vast expansion of the COG and COOP activity by FEMA also was in part to act on Carter era Presidential Directives. But this effort also was largely successive but very expensive. Guiffrida understood and pushed the notion that the President as Chief Executive also needed to be able to conduct that activity under all scenarios and that it was a distinctly different role than Commander-in-Chief. That latter role throughout the Cold War was consumed with nuclear strategy and survivability of the National Command System.

Strangely perhaps because of his service to a Governor, Guiffrida had a better grasp of the system of federalism in the US and civil military relationships than almost any Director of FEMA.

Guiffrida finally was asked to resign for a number of misdeeds known collectively as Ethics issues but the key one was his testimony before the Science Committee in the House of Representatives Chaired by Albert Gore who referred him for a charge of perjury to the Department of Justice. Guiffrida was never charged by DOJ and never prosecuted. Probably in summary except for his activities leading to his departure, Guiffrida ended up focusing FEMA on its domestic missions of disaste relief just because after his time as Director no FEMA Director tried to resurrect FEMA's interest in National Security Policy or domestic law enforcement. This probably was a good thing in the long run but also created problems for later Directors. Thus, perhaps by accident Guiffrida left a very different FEMA than the one he tried to build.