Rebirth Redux

Back in the mid-1990s, we had an unwritten rule at Government Executive - no more stories about how great the Federal Emergency Management Agency is.

It wasn't that we thought FEMA was doing poorly. In fact, none of us doubted the essential truth of the agency's story at that moment: Public outrage in the wake of poor responses to Hurricane Hugo in 1989 and Hurricane Andrew in 1992 leads to the elevation of the agency to Cabinet status and the appointment of an experienced emergency management professional, James Lee Witt, to head its operations. He orchestrates a dramatic turnaround that manifests itself in impressive responses to everything from the Oklahoma City bombing to floods on the Red River in North Dakota.

We just thought FEMA's success story had been done to death. At the time we didn't know that the agency was about to make the journey back to the dark side, culminating in its return to its former status as the poster child for ineffective government after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

That's why it's such a pleasure to focus once again on the agency's rebirth. In this issue, Katherine McIntire Peters takes an inside look at FEMA Administrator R. David Paulison's post-Katrina effort to rebuild the staff and to streamline response procedures. It's no coincidence that Paulison is a 36-year veteran of disaster management. Experienced executives, it turns out, are just what the doctor ordered for the ailing FEMA-and other agencies, too. That's why we're also pleased to feature in a special supplement in this issue the recipients of the annual Presidential Rank Awards for distinguished executives and senior professionals. They are the government's elite and their accomplishments are inspiring.

In the supplement, we profile four people who we believe illustrate the breadth of accomplishments of this year's winners: Lucille B. Beck, who has put advances in auditory technology to work in helping veterans; Matt Reres, who served as the Army's ethical standard-bearer; Alan R. Shaffer, who works to bring the latest technological advances to American troops; and Deborah J. Spero, who helped the Homeland Security Department's Customs and Border Protection Bureau establish its identity when it was created after the Sept. 11 attacks.

They and the other winners will be honored by the Senior Executives Association at a gala dinner in Washington on April 17. The following day, Government Executive will host a reception and symposium honoring another 283 executives who have been designated as "meritorious" in the Presidential Rank Awards. We're proud to give these peak performers the recognition they have earned over long careers of federal service.

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