The federal response to Hurricane Katrina prompted lots of criticism of the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the way the Bush administration treated the agency. It had been an independent agency under President Bill Clinton, but President George W. Bush put it under the Department of Homeland Security after the Sept. 11 attacks, which was seen as something of a demotion. Bush was also criticized for putting political cronies in charge of FEMA rather than people with experience in emergency management.
During the campaign, Barack Obama said he would "depoliticize" the job, appointing someone with experience in the field and giving the FEMA chief a six-year term.
On March 4, Obama nominated Craig Fugate, who had been director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management and has spent his career in emergency management. We reviewed reactions to Fugate's appointment and found praise for his competency from both Democrats and Republicans. Indeed, Fugate had first been appointed to head the Florida position by Republican Gov. Jeb Bush.
The U.S. Senate still must approve Fugate's confirmation, but no hearing has been scheduled.
Additionally, it's unclear if Obama intends to keep his pledge about changing the organizational structure so that the FEMA director reports directly to the president instead of to the Department of Homeland Security, or whether Fugate will serve a fixed term.
In an interview with regional newspapers on March 11, Obama was asked about FEMA moving out of the Department of Homeland Security.
"I have not made a final decision on that," Obama said. "But whether FEMA stays inside DHS, or is once again a stand-alone agency, the one thing you can be certain of is that it's going to do an outstanding job performing its tasks."
We will be watching to see if Fugate is confirmed and if the structure of FEMA changes. For now, we rate this promise In the Works.