Holding the Government Accountable

Experience Matters: President Bush Fails to Learn from Katrina

President George Bush seems not to have learned one of the biggest lessons of Hurricane Katrina: the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) should be experienced. Upon signing H.R. 5441, the "Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act, 2007," Bush signaled that he might not abide by the requirement that the next Director of FEMA have at least five years of related experience.

In his released signing statement, Bush protested that Congress cannot set limits on who he nominates. "[The bill] purports to limit the qualifications of the pool of persons from whom the President may select the appointee in a manner that rules out a large portion of those persons best qualified by experience and knowledge to fill the office," said Bush.

Apparently, Bush discerned that individuals with five years of executive leadership and management experience--coupled with significant experience in crisis management--are not the people best qualified by experience and knowledge to fill the office. The provision would prevent the President from drawing further nominations from the skilled applicants from the Arabian Horse Association.

As Think Progress put it (best), Bush has "asserted his constitutional right to continue to install incompetent FEMA administrators."

On Thursday, a bi-partisan group of U.S. Senators sent a letter to the President expressing "dismay" at the signing statement. The letter points out that the minimum qualifications outlined are not unprecedented. "Congress has established qualifications for numerous executive positions, such as the Solictor General and the Director of the Fish and Wildlife Service," wrote the Senators. "The bottom line is that we need FEMA leadership that meets high standards."