A Louisiana senator is stalling Florida emergency management director Craig Fugate's nomination as head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Fugate had sailed through his nomination hearing and Monday cleared the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee by a unanimous voice vote. Republican Sen. David Vitter said, however, that he'd blocked Fugate because of concerns he has with FEMA.
"I have a hold on the FEMA nomination because I sent a list of hurricane recovery questions and projects to FEMA, many of which have not been adequately addressed," Vitter said in a statement. "I'm eager to get full responses and meet with the nominee immediately."
The hold — which comes a month before the start of hurricane season — was reported in CQ Today, a Capitol Hill newspaper, which noted that Vitter's home state "bore the brunt of the botched agency response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005."
At that time, FEMA was led by Michael Brown, who had little emergency management experience. Fugate, however, garnered widespread praise for deft handling of back-to-back hurricanes in Florida and won bipartisan support at his confirmation hearing and was expected to be confirmed swiftly.
Vitter's fellow Louisiana senator, Democrat Mary Landrieu, backs Fugate. She said, however, that she understands Vitter's concerns, which apparently relate to FEMA's maps of controversial "high-velocity flood zones," a designation related to coastal areas that are at high risk in a hurricane or an area that faces significant risk in the event of a flood. Federal regulations currently prohibit FEMA from funding new construction in such zones, and Louisiana officials want more flexibility.
"When we all understand the problems with a particular nominee, we can all work to address those issues," Landrieu said in a statement.
She noted that she shared Vitter's concerns, and at Fugate's confirmation hearing, she questioned him about changing the federal rules that ban new construction.
"One of the things I want to be able to do is look at V-Zones and make sure we are pragmatic in our decision making," Fugate said at the time. "Obviously, when a community is at risk and we can move that community and minimize that risk to their lives and property in the future, we should achieve that.
"But there are times when moving a community is not practical and we should look at what are the potential options through engineering or other types of mitigation techniques," he said.