May 13, 2009 By Elaine Rundle
Craig Fugate was confirmed as the new administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Tuesday.
Sen. David Vitter, R-La., had put a hold on the nomination in order to force FEMA to provide answers about rebuilding southern Louisiana communities that sustained heavy flooding during hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Fugate was confirmed by the Senate after Vitter received a letter from acting FEMA Administrator Nancy Ward that provided written commitment that Vitter's concern would be examined.
During Fugate's nomination hearing with the Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs, he said he would improve FEMA's partnership with state and local governments. He also called for the agency to focus on preparedness and a coordinated response from the federal government for the next disaster.
Many emergency managers have said they would support Fugate as administrator. "I think -- No. 1 -- having a former state emergency management director serve as FEMA administrator means that there will be a greater understanding and support for building capabilities at the local and state level," Trina Sheets, executive director of the National Emergency Management Association, told Government Technology in March. "It's not just the federal government that needs capabilities and resources, they have to just push down to the state and local levels, and Craig Fugate understands that perfectly."
Emergency managers also think his experience in state and local government will aid how FEMA deals with municipalities. "This is a guy who has actually worked in emergency management his whole life and at all levels of government -- local, state and federal. So we think he's in a unique position to understand the needs of all those different levels," Russ Decker, director of the Allen County, Ohio, Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, and president of the International Association of Emergency Managers, told Government Technology in March.
Fugate hails from state and local emergency management, and would bring a lifetime of experience to the position. He began his emergency management career as a volunteer firefighter. He then became a paramedic and a fire department lieutenant, before being elevated to the position of emergency manager of Alachua County, Fla., which he held for 10 years.
In 2001, then-Florida Gov. Jeb Bush brought Fugate on as the state's director of emergency management. And the next governor, Charlie Crist, kept him in the position.
In September 2005, former FEMA Administrator Michael Brown stepped down after much public outcry over how he handled the federal response to Hurricane Katrina. According to Time magazine, then-President George W. Bush nominated Fugate to replace Brown, but he turned down the opportunity because "the timing wasn't right."
Government Technology named Fugate one of its Top 25 Doers, Dreamers and Drivers of 2008.