Senate Confirms Pick for FEMA Chief

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Senate confirmed President Barack Obama's
pick to head the nation's emergency management agency Tuesday after
a Louisiana Republican agreed to stop blocking the vote amid
bipartisan criticism that the agency was left vulnerable with
hurricane season just a few weeks away.

Craig Fugate took over the Federal Emergency Management Agency
on a voice vote by the Senate. A former Florida emergency
management chief, he had garnered broad bipartisan support.

Sen. David Vitter had put a hold on confirming Fugate until FEMA
officials provided answers on several lingering questions involving
Hurricane Katrina rebuilding.

The delay won support from some local officials and the
Louisiana Floodplain Management Association, who want FEMA to take
a second look at parts of southern Louisiana that have been labeled
high-risk flood zones ineligible for rebuilding funds.

With hurricane season starting June 1, Vitter was drawing
growing criticism from groups such as International Association of
Emergency Managers and the American Red Cross, as well as
Republican lawmakers and the White House. The tactic also had
become an issue in Vitter's 2010 re-election bid, with the
Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee accusing him of recklessly
using the issue to draw attention to his campaign.

Under Senate rules, any senator can place what's known as a
"hold" on a presidential nomination. The hold doesn't kill the
nomination, but it can delay confirmation for weeks or longer by
forcing time-consuming votes.

After meeting with FEMA officials last week, Vitter agreed to
relent if he got written confirmation that the agency is working in
good faith to resolve his concerns, and that FEMA would keep him
updated at least every two weeks until the issues are resolved.

In a letter Monday, acting FEMA administrator Nancy Ward said
the agency would work toward finding a "reasonable resolution"
with him and other Louisiana lawmakers who have expressed concerns.

She stopped short of committing to the state's requests, however.

"We understand that prompt action is necessary due to the impact that delays can have on affected individuals and
communities," Ward wrote. But, "the need for quick action must be
balanced with the need for FEMA to follow the laws written by
Congress, as well as its own regulations."

Vitter, who has pressed specifically for rebuilding several
community facilities in the small barrier island of Grand Isle,
La., said Tuesday that Ward's assurances were enough to break the
impasse.

"I'm very confident based on their written commitment that the
... issue will be solved soon so that crucial infrastructure and
facilities can be rebuilt," he said in a statement. "I look
forward to working with the new FEMA administrator on that and much
more."


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