With the election of George W. Bush, a new FEMA Director was named to head the Agency; Joe Allbaugh. As a former the Chief of Staff to Governor Bush in Texas and President Bush’s Campaign Manager in the 2000 Presidential race, Allbaugh had a close personal relationship with the President. As demonstrated by Director Witt under President Clinton, this relationship was recognized as positive for the Agency. His lack of emergency management background, however, was not an issue that was raised during his confirmation hearings.
As part of a major reorganization of the Agency, Allbaugh recreated the Office of National Preparedness (ONP), which was first established in the 1980s during the Guiffrida reign to plan for World War III (but had been eliminated by Witt in 1992.) The office was recreated with a new mission, to focus on terrorism. Allbaugh’s action raised some concerns among FEMA’s constituents and FEMA staff.
In a September 10, 2001 speech, Director Allbaugh talked about his priorities as being firefighters, disaster mitigation and catastrophic preparedness. Today, this speech seems prophetic in light of the events of September 11th. As the events of that terrible day unfolded, FEMA activated the Federal Response Plan, setting forth response operations as they were designed in both New York and in Virginia. Most of the Agency’s senior leaders, including the Director, had been in Montana at the time, attending the Annual Meeting of the National Emergency Management Association (NEMA – an organization that represents State Emergency Management Directors.) The strength of the American emergency response system was proven effective by the rapid and effective activation of hundreds of Federal response personnel.