FEMA chief wants to meet hiring goals -- and then some

As the first anniversary of Hurricane Katrina's landfall approached, officials at the Federal Emergency Management Agency still were trying to fill vacancies to be better prepared for the next disaster.

Speaking Sunday on NBC's Meet the Press, FEMA Director R. David Paulison said the agency is looking to meet this year's hiring goals -- and wants to add even more staff.

Hiring new employees has "been a slower process than I thought," said Paulison, who took the helm of the agency in late May after a post-Katrina stint as acting director. "It's more difficult to get people on board in the federal government than at the local level, but we are doing it and we are going to fill this agency up. And I'm also looking to increase the size of this agency."

Paulison once said he wanted to get all of the agency's empty seats filled by the onset of this year's hurricane season on June 1. Two weeks after that date passed, he gave up on a deadline altogether.

Paulison did not say how much he wants to increase FEMA's staff. The agency's press office did not respond to requests for comment.

FEMA also is recruiting temporary workers, known as Cadre On-Call Regional Employees. But three Gulf Coast states are having difficulty hiring for these positions. Currently, Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi have filled 1,115 of 2,363 projected CORE positions -- 47 percent of the total, according to statistics provided to Government Executive by FEMA's Atlanta regional office.

CORE employees are brought in only when an emergency necessitates their presence. They are far from Gulf Coast states' last line of defense against emergency: Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama have a combined 5,579 full-time state and federal emergency response employees.

Paulison has said previously that FEMA is focusing much of its efforts on Louisiana. More federal employees are situated in that state than in Alabama and Mississippi combined.

On Monday, Democrats on the House Homeland Security Committee released a report calling on the federal government to ensure that it is fully staffed to deal with emergencies, to use more competitive procurement processes and to put more contracts in place before disasters strike.

"Sadly, when it comes to catastrophic planning, this administration has been penny-wise and pound-foolish," said Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss. "Billions of American tax dollars and donations were wasted. Worse yet, the small businesses in or near communities hard hit by the storm were never afforded the opportunity to rebuild their own communities."

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