Senate confirms Paulison for top FEMA job before hurricane season


WASHINGTON (AP) – The Senate confirmed R. David Paulison as FEMA’s chief on Friday, ending uncertainty over whether the beleaguered disaster relief agency would have a permanent director by next week’s start of the hurricane season.

Paulison’s confirmation was one of three Homeland Security Department nominations the Senate approved without objections before heading out of town on a one-week recess for Memorial Day.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, whose department oversees the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said he is “confident the American public will be well-served” by Paulison.

Despite a push to get Paulison confirmed before the June 1 start of the annual storm season, his nomination hit several temporary snags.

On Wednesday, members of the Senate Homeland Security Governmental Affairs Committee questioned irregular travel expense deductions on three years worth of his tax returns. Paulison said Thursday he would refile amended returns to correct any errors, satisfying the committee.

But hours later, Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Ky., said he would block Paulison’s nomination to protest FEMA’s failure to develop an appeals system for property owners whose flood insurance claims are rejected. FEMA administers the national flood insurance program.

By Friday morning, however, Bunning dropped his threat after being assured by Chertoff – in a phone call and a letter – that FEMA would establish an appeals process soon.

Paulison has served as acting FEMA director since September, taking over the beleaguered agency two weeks after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast. He has had a three-decade-long firefighting career, including a stint as chief of the Miami-Dade County fire department and head of the U.S. Fire Administration.

The Senate also confirmed David L. Norquist as Homeland Security’s chief financial officer, and former Secret Service director Ralph Basham as commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

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AP-ES-05-26-06 1802EDT