Sunday, August 8, 2010

Profiles-The Independent FEMA Directors-Joseph Allbaugh

You may wonder why I am skipping over a profile of Director James Lee Witt at the moment but reason is likely to be my lengthiest profile of a FEMA Director and hoping this series is and was of interest.

Before taking up Joe Allbaugh I am going to reveal the person that ran FEMA between James Lee Witt and Director Allbaugh. John Magaw!

I retired from FEMA on October 1st 1999 and Mr. Magaw arrived in FEMA on December 1st 1999. I have never met him or Mr. Allbaugh. In the fall of 2000 I was however escounced in my REHOBOTH BEACH winter rental at 70 Park Ave. for the second winter post retirement. A good friend and I watched both the election and the daily struggle for supremacy between the Bush and Gore campaigns for the Presidency both before and after the election.  Not sure how well documented that effort is but I do know reading the SCOTUS opinion essentially electing George W. Bush, SCOTUS opened up the litigation front for all future Presidential elections and those for STATE and LOCAL governments also. Not sure if that was there intention but that in fact and law IMO is what they accomplished besides cutting short the recount. The fiction that the US has one man one vote of course is ridiculous, made a fiction by the so-called Great Compromise giving two SENATORs even to the small states and the gerrymandering of districts. The efforts by several states to avoid the problems created by the Electoral College will be interesting to watch.

Okay here I am at the beach the second winter hoping to enjoy isolation and be able to reflect on events without distraction.  Oddly even the first winter I had received numberous calls by a GAO Office Director, Ray Decker, and from Keith Bea at CRS. Both had invited me to brief them and their staffs or colleagues several times on FEMA and FEMA questions and of course I gave both organizations an extensive document dump. Hoping it was helpful. Some extraneous evidence it was.
At any rate after the 2000 election was decided I received a call from a high-ranking person in Austin to discuss FEMA's leadership both after James Lee Witt and before the Bush Director was confirmed. Hey I am a fuzzy headed liberal but somehow all segments of the political spectrum seem to find me when they want to do so. So I first stated I don't know Joe Allbaugh but happy to give you what I do know or think about him and his tenure in FEMA. Okay they said what do you know? Well I said he was member of the George H.W. Bush Secret Service detail and he had been an Ohio State trooper for 20 years and then retired. After the debacle at WACO and the Branch Dravidian Compound AG Janet Reno and the Clinton WH were desperately searching for a new head for ATF (Alcohol, Tabacco, Firearms) that HAD NOT BEEN IN ATF at the time of WACO.  Magaw was appointed head of ATF. I don't believe he was subject to Senate confirmation but maybe.
Apparently lacking both management ability and policy ability for that job ATF was becoming a shambles and WH wanted Magaw out. Since he was shortly to qualify for SES retirement he begged to be given a place to ride out his time to federal retirement.
In the meantime, counterterrorism activity was heating up under the direction of Richard Clark and the NSC. Pressure was being placed again on FEMA to step up to the plate and perform not just on the natural disaster side but also the national security side. Witt hated the national security side and did not want to attend meetings involving Clark or the national security establishment. So when WH personnel called and Magaw was described to Witt he said sure I will take him and he will be law enforcement/NS liaison and attend these dredded meetings. Based on that Magaw came to FEMA. Speaking with a number of people in these meetings Magaw seldom spoke up and contributed little and since Witt really was not interested reported little of the meetings to Witt. Since the perception was a change of administration was forthcoming Witt did not emphasize the areas the NSC was conscerned with for implementation. Including STATE and LOCAL training and counterterrorism. A brilliant civil servant, no longer in the federal government, and a relative junior staffer, Lisa Gordon-Hagerty ran the STATE and LOCAL interface for NSC or else it was done by the newly created DOJ organizations, DOMESTIC PREPARDNESS OFFICE or the NDPO a rival organization created by Janet Reno. The latter in its eventual transfer to DHS transferred no staff, no mission and no funding since it had never become a line-item in the DOJ appropriation despite its creation. Strangely in the runup to the creation of DHS a big deal was made of this transfer. The NDPO also had no specific statutory authority unless there was a delegation of Nunn-Lugar that I missed. That activity was a reflection of the transfer to DOJ from DOD of the STATE and LOCAL interface role rejected twice by Witt under the Defense Against Weapons of Mass Destruction Act (1996)!
Of course even post Bush election James Lee Witt desperately wanted to retain the position of FEMA Director, his best job ever. He had hoped that Senator Ted Stevens legislation mandating a 10 year term for the FEMA Director job would become law and he would be slected. It is a fact that several long term Republicans had succeeded beyond measure in being a heavy influence with Director Witt, the Chairmen of the Appropriations Committees with oversight of FEMA. These were Senator Ted Stevens and Congressman Jerry Lewis.
So Magaw was selected to run FEMA on January 20th 2001 and did so until Allbaugh was sworn in as Director. And in May 2001, Allbaugh named Magaw head of the Office of National Security to help implement a new domestic effort by FEMA announced by the WH on May 8th. That office had no line item appropriation or established staffing and on September 10th, in a desperate telegram from Magaw to Allbaugh, Magaw stated that without a line item and permanent staff he could not accomplish his mission. The timing of course was almost historic. Allbaugh being at a semi-annual meeting of NEMA in Montana and when all planes grounded on 9/11 had to return by car to Washington,D.C. And of course, all bets were off on Administration domestic counterterrrorism strategy as of that date. Later in the fall, perhaps forestaging being reassigned anyhow, Magaw preempted Allbaugh by going to the Director and announcing that he was leaving FEMA. When asked why Magaw told Allbaugh he had been selected by the Administration to be the newly created Senate confirmed Deputy Under Secretary for Tranportation Security in DOT.
Now on to Joe Allbaugh. Throughout the Bush Adminstration's time in office in TEXAS, Allbaugh had been a general factotum for the Governor. Basically a very weak governor's job if looked at legally, Allbaugh had been active in various activities for Governor Bush. He also was considered part of a key triumperate of Karl Rove, and Karen Evans both of later fame. My scuttlebutt is that both Rove and Evans wanted to do everything in their power to keep Allbaugh out of the WH. They succeeded. When first offered the FEMA Director job, Allbaugh declined then reconsidered and accepted. The first task given the FEMA telecommunications type was a red phone to go directly to the President. Not sure if this happened or not and not certain if it ever rang. Allbaugh's wife a skilled lobbyist for ENRON among others was included in the VP Cheney strategy sessions on adoption of a new energy policy.
President Bush actually visited FEMA and when on camera Joe Allbaugh used his fingers to put donkey ears over the President's head, captured on film for all time. This probably gives insight as the EVANS/ROVE efforts to keep Allbaugh out of the WH. The role of Joe Allbaugh was altered by the events of 9/11/01 but even before that he had announced a reorganization of FEMA in summer 2001 and he had ended Project Impact, a pre-disaster mitigation program which occurred just before the Nisqually  Earthquake in Washington State. That and some criticisms of disaster victims in Iowa demonstrated that Allbaugh was somewhat tone deaf politically.
In his confirmation hearings, which I attended, I have never witnessed a more arrogant nominee who based on Senatorial body language did NOT make a good impression. He testified to the number of federally declared disasters he had led in TEXAS as part of his expertise. In fact, in addititon to a weak governorship legally, TEXAS OEM is not anywhere near the top ten in the US and certainly was not under George Bush as evidenced as recently as Rita and Katrina, and Ike. In TEXAS the USACOE and National Guard are usually the lead organizations and not the STATE OEM and that in itself speaks to interesting issues of federalism but all that for a later post. SEE the most recent survey of STATE EM ops by NEMA.
Allbaugh campaigned fairly openly for the job of the first Secretary of DHS. Once he realized his time had passed and he would in no event be reporting directly to the President at least on paper he announced his departure effective with the effective date of actual incorporation of FEMA into DHS on March 1, 2003, under the Homeland Security Act of 2002.  Under that statute FEMA lost its name and some functions and activities and was then led by Michael Brown. Joe Allbaugh has continued to consult in a variety of arenas since 2003 largely overseas.