WASHINGTON – President Bush’s first director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency says he’s not surprised it’s become mired in controversy.

“FEMA has been broken for quite some time,” Joe Allbaugh said in an interview Thursday.

The FEMA that he directed did a good job responding to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks four years ago, he said. But now it suffers as one of 22 agencies rolled into the new Department of Homeland Security.

“Functions have been moved out of FEMA. Budgets have been cut and used elsewhere,” he said, adding that moving FEMA into Homeland Security had added a “couple of layers” of new bureaucracy.

“There were too many cooks in the kitchen,” Allbaugh said, assessing the much-criticized response to Hurricane Katrina.

At Homeland Security, spokesman Russ Knocke acknowledged that some FEMA funds were used to start up the new department headquarters and other funds were saved through more efficient management.

But he said FEMA has benefited from the new structure because “everyone has the same boss” and it can more easily draw on other agencies for help.

Allbaugh was appointed FEMA director at the start of Bush’s first term and served two years. He left FEMA in early 2003 to go into the consulting business in part, he said, because he wasn’t keen on the agency’s merger into Homeland Security.

After years of dealing directly with Bush, the new department structure would add just “further layers” of bureaucracy between him and the president, Allbaugh said.

“It just didn’t make any sense to me,” he said.

Allbaugh was replaced by his deputy, Michael Brown, a longtime friend from Oklahoma whom he first hired as the agency’s general counsel. Brown resigned under fire Sept. 12 in a torrent of criticism that he was not up to the job of dealing with the catastrophic hurricane that has claimed more than 1,000 lives.

Long a Bush confidant, Allbaugh had served as his chief of staff when he was governor of Texas and was manager of his 2000 presidential campaign.

His business, the Allbaugh Group, represents a pair of large engineering and construction companies – the Halliburton subsidiary KBR and the Shaw Group – that could gain from Katrina work. He says he doesn’t lobby for them but rather does special projects and long-term strategic planning, and it wouldn’t “bother” him if there were lifetime lobbying bans for those who served in high government posts.

“It wouldn’t hurt me – no skin off my nose or money out of my pocket,” he said, “because it’s not what I do.”

(c) 2005, The Dallas Morning News.

Visit The Dallas Morning News on the World Wide Web at http://www.dallasnews.com/

Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

ARCHIVE PHOTOS on KRT Direct (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): Joe Allbaugh


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.