A FEMA PRIMER….A reader writes to Instapundit about FEMA chief Mike Brown: “I’m not defending cronyism, but….how different are these men’s bona fides from previous FEMA heads? Shouldn’t we know that as well?”

Here at the Washington Monthly we live to answer questions like this, so here’s a summary of the background and general reputations of the four most recent heads of FEMA, listed chronologically. Connecting each FEMA chief to the president who appointed him is left as an exercise for the reader:

  • 1990-1992: Wallace Stickney, head of New Hampshire’s Department of Transportation.

    Washington Monthly: “Stickney’s only apparent qualification for the post was that he was a close friend and former next door neighbor of Bush Chief of Staff John Sununu.”

    House Appropriations Committee report: “A weak, uninterested executive who has little interest in the agency’s substantive programs.”

  • 1993-2000: James Lee Witt, Director of the Arkansas Office of Emergency Services.

    Triumphs and Tragedies of the Modern Presidency: 76 Case Studies in Presidential Leadership, ed. David Abshire: “As amazing as it sounds, Witt was the first FEMA head who came to the position with direct experience in emergency management….On Witt’s recommendation, Clinton filled most of the FEMA jobs reserved for political appointees with persons who had previous experience in natural disasters and intergovernmental relations.”

    Senator James Inhofe (R-OK): “I haven’t spent a lot of time complimenting the President on his appointments, but I sure did on this one.”

    George W. Bush: “I have to pay the administration a compliment. James Lee Witt of FEMA has done a really good job of working with governors during times of crisis.”

  • 2001-2002: Joe Allbaugh, Bush chief of staff and National Campaign Manager for Bush-Cheney 2000.

    Slate: “Almost nothing is known about Allbaugh except that he’s from Oklahoma, that he has a flat-top haircut, that he rides herd on campaign spending, and that Dubya calls him “Big Country.” Allbaugh is famously press-shy and has somehow managed to make it through the entire campaign without having a major magazine or newspaper profile written about him.”

    Joe Allbaugh, explaining his view of FEMA’s role: “Expectations of when the federal government should be involved and the degree of involvement may have ballooned beyond what is an appropriate level. We must restore the predominant role of State and local response to most disasters.”

    Claire Rubin, senior researcher at George Washington University’s Institute for Crisis, Disaster and Risk Management: “Allbaugh? He was inept.”

  • 2003-Present: Michael Brown, Commissioner of Judges and Stewards for the International Arabian Horse Association.

    The New Republic: “He was, among other things, a failed former lawyer ? a man with a 20-year-old degree from a semi-accredited law school who hadn’t attempted to practice law in a serious way in nearly 15 years and who had just been forced out of his job in the wake of charges of impropriety….Yet he was also what’s known in the Mafia as a ‘connected guy.’”

    ABC News: “We and other news organizations reported that Brown was college roommates with a man who recommended him for the job, former FEMA Director Joe Allbaugh. Allbaugh told us that was not correct. They were friends, but not roommates.”

    Stephen Jones, a former employer: “He was average. Maybe that’s the best way to put it.” On learning that Brown was under consideration as deputy director of FEMA: “You’re surely kidding?”

    Washington Post: “In his last extended TV interview on CNN, Brown admitted Thursday that the federal government did not know that thousands of survivors without food or water had taken shelter at the city’s convention center, despite a day of news reports.”

Which of these four is not like the other?

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