President Obama avoided one of the most egregious mistakes of his predecessor Wednesday by naming Craig Fugate, the director of Florida's Division of Emergency Management, to head the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Unlike President Bush, Obama has chosen experience and competence over political connections to lead the national response to hurricanes and other emergencies. Florida's loss will be the nation's gain.
Fugate is widely respected within the state and nationally for his leadership of Florida's emergency response team for more than seven years. During one 13-month period in 2004 and 2005, he competently led the state's response to seven hurricanes and two tropical storms. He has handled emergencies from tornados to wildfires, coordinating efforts to deal with nearly two dozen state emergencies that brought more than $4.5 billion in federal relief.
"Craig has what it takes to help us improve our preparedness, response and recovery efforts and I can think of no one better to lead FEMA," Obama said in a statement Wednesday. "I'm confident that Craig is the right person for the job and will ensure that the failures of the past are never repeated."
So are we. Fugate is to travel today with Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to New Orleans, where residents are still recovering from 2005's Hurricane Katrina and the federal government's pitiful response. FEMA still has plenty of issues, from funding to staffing to turf wars. But now it will have quality leadership from an emergency manager who talks straight and knows how to prepare for the worst and respond to a crisis.