Bush Administration Undermined FEMA

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It was with the appointment in 1993 of James Lee Witt, from Arkansas, that FEMA began to earn respect. Bill Clinton made FEMA a cabinet-level agency. "Witt shaped it into an organization that was not only to respond to disaster but attempt to mitigate disaster by taking actions before they occurred," said Michael Greenberger, a domestic security expert at the University of Maryland and a former Justice Department official

After severe flooding in the Midwest in 1993, FEMA under Mr. Witt, for example, bought more than 10,000 properties adjacent to rivers and relocated residents and businesses. In Grafton, Ill., where 403 residents and businesses applied for disaster aid after the 1993 flood, only 11 applied when the river overflowed again in 1995, FEMA said at the time.

The approach to disaster management changed with the arrival of President Bush, experts in emergency management say. Mr. Bush appointed Mr. Allbaugh, who was Mr. Bush's chief of staff when he was governor of Texas.

Testifying before Congress in 2001, Mr. Allbaugh said he was concerned that federal disaster assistance had become "an oversized entitlement program" and made it clear that the new administration wanted to curtail FEMA's mission.

His goal, he said, was to "restore the predominant role of state and local response to most disasters."

While Mr. Allbaugh was FEMA director, the Bush administration, with the backing of Congress, reversed the emphasis on preventing flooding, cutting the formula for such federal grants by half.

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