President Bush has tapped a federal official with three decades of firefighting experience and a background in emergency management to be the new face of his administration’s response to Hurricane Katrina and future natural disasters.
Bush on Monday said he would name Miami native R. David Paulison as acting director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, replacing Mike Brown. Brown resigned Monday after days of criticism over what some said was a slow and ineffective response to Hurricane Katrina’s devastation.
Since December 2001, Paulison has led the U.S. Fire Administration, a division of FEMA and the Homeland Security Department that works to reduce life and economic losses caused by fire.
Paulison led FEMA’s emergency preparedness force from 2003-2004.
Before joining the agency, Paulison was chief of the Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Department, where he oversaw 1,900 personnel and a $200 million operating budget, according to a biography posted on FEMA’s Web site. He also oversaw the Dade County Emergency Management Office.
Paulison started as a rescue firefighter, before rising through the ranks to become fire chief. He was among the emergency workers who responded to Hurricane Andrew in 1992 and the crash of ValuJet Flight 592 in the Florida Everglades in 1996. He also is a certified paramedic.
Some critics of Brown praised Bush’s decision to promote Paulison.
“With new, capable leadership, FEMA can again lead the way in saving lives and saving communities,” said Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., who was among those calling for Brown’s removal.
Civil rights leader Jesse Jackson said Brown became a scapegoat for a failed system. Even without Brown at the top, Jackson said thousands of evacuees were still sleeping in shelters, children were missing school and training for those without jobs remained lacking.
“The decision to change leaders over a failed system is no substantial change,” Jackson said.
Bush was told of Brown’s resignation earlier in the day Monday and spoke to Homeland Security Secretary Mike Chertoff, who was Brown’s boss, from Air Force One in the afternoon as he flew back to Washington from an overnight visit to the region.
White House spokesman Scott McClellan said the White House did not seek Brown’s resignation.
“This was Mike Brown’s decision and we respect his decision,” McClellan said.
McClellan said Bush appreciated Brown’s work, but conspicuously left out any reference to his contribution to the Katrina efforts.
Brown’s resignation came three days after Chertoff sent him back to headquarters from the Gulf area, where he had been the point-man in the region. It also came little more than a week after Bush, on his first post-storm visit to the region, said, “Brownie, you’re doing a heckuva job.”
In an interview, Brown said he feared he had become a distraction.
“The focus has got to be on FEMA, what the people are trying to do down there,” Brown told The Associated Press on Monday.
Brown said he last talked to Bush five or six days ago. The decision to leave was his, he said.
Brown and his agency fell under intense criticism from Democrats and Republicans almost from the moment Hurricane Katrina tore through Gulf Coast areas of Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi two weeks ago.
FEMA’s response was criticized as slow and ineffective, posing political problems for the president.
Brown said that all the resources the agency had in place before the storm were overwhelmed and that he did not anticipate the total breakdown in communications. His limited, prior experience in disaster relief also became an issue.