Hurricane Season May Start Without Leader at FEMA

WASHINGTON (AP) - Hurricane season starts in just a few weeks,
but the Federal Emergency Management Agency remains without a
leader as a Louisiana Republican senator is blocking the White
House's nominee over lingering concerns from Hurricane Katrina.

Sen. David Vitter said Tuesday he is standing by the hold he
placed on President Barack Obama's choice to lead FEMA. Vitter says
he has been waiting for more than two months for the agency to tell
him how it will proceed with high-risk flood zones that will affect
rebuilding. He also wants responses on rebuilding several community
facilities in the small barrier island of Grand Isle, La.

"They need to get this done," he said in an interview. "This
is a really important issue for our recovery that they have been
dragging their feet on essentially for almost four years. I brought
this to their attention months ago."

Obama nominated Craig Fugate (FYOO'-gayt) to head the agency two
months ago. Fugate, a former chief of emergency management in
Florida with broad experience handling hurricanes, has bipartisan
support and had been expected to win quick confirmation.

Groups such as the International Association of Emergency
Managers and the American Red Cross are urging quick action.

"It is critical that FEMA leadership be put in place swiftly,"
the Stafford Act Coalition, a group of disaster-response
organizations and related agencies that work with FEMA, wrote
Senate leaders this week. "Currently, our nation is addressing the
H1N1 flu and the response and recovery for multiple other disasters
involving flooding, severe storms, tornadoes and wildfires."

Any senator can place a hold on a presidential nomination.
Vitter alone can't block the nomination, but he can delay
confirmation by forcing time-consuming votes.

Louisiana's other senator, Democrat Mary Landrieu, has said she
shares Vitter's concerns but thinks the issues can be resolved
after Fugate is confirmed.

"It is counterproductive to hold this exceptionally qualified
and experienced nominee to head FEMA, particularly when hurricane
season starts next month," she said. Hurricane season runs from
June 1 to Nov. 30.

Vitter declined to say how long he would hold out or how he
would react if he doesn't like the answers FEMA provides.

"I haven't thought about that because I expect a response very
soon," he said.

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