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FEMA on hiring binge to fill out staff

Officials hope to find as many as 50 employees at a job fair Thursday; many of the available positions are in contracting.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency will start a hiring spree this week, putting it on the brink of restoring staff levels to 90 percent of capacity.

On Thursday, officials at FEMA's Washington, D.C., headquarters will hold a job fair aimed at finding as many as 50 new employees. The agency plans on hiring 41 just for its procurement division, said Marko Bourne, FEMA's director of policy and program analysis.

There are about 333 positions listed as vacant at FEMA overall. Candidates have been selected to fill 107 of them. FEMA Deputy Director Harvey Johnson said once those 107 are finalized and the job fair is finished, FEMA will likely have crossed the 90 percent capacity threshold "for the first time in years."

Should FEMA fail, it would not be the first time the agency's recruitment attempts fell far short of stated goals. Last year, FEMA Director R. David Paulison set a target date to get to 95 percent. When the agency failed to meet that, officials adjusted their staffing goals, but later abandoned them altogether. Paulison, who at that point was acting director, cited bureaucracy as a problem.

Johnson did not say precisely when the agency now expects to be at 95 percent capacity, but said it is a goal for this year.

Officials also said Monday that the Homeland Security Department's fiscal 2008 budget request includes $100 million for FEMA and the department's Preparedness Directorate to improve programs to make communications systems more compatible. Bourne added that along with whatever appropriations the agency gets for fiscal 2008, $1 billion has been set aside for interoperability grants already, and will be distributed via DHS and the Commerce Department.

Earlier this year, DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff called for an ambitious interoperability program. But some members of Congress -- including House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss. -- said Chertoff did not seek enough money to make that program work.