Bush names a hurricane recovery czar
One month after promising a "quick" rebuilding and recovery effort in the Gulf Coast, President Bush has finally gotten around to appointing a high-level official in his administration to oversee the potentially multiyear recovery effort from Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita.
Bush tapped Donald Powell, 64, current head of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., to serve as the coordinator for recovery and rebuilding. Powell will oversee a federal juggernaut that some estimate could carry a price tag of $200 billionand the new recovery czar is already feeling the political heat.
Even though Bush outlined the position in his nationally televised speech a month ago, the news of an appointee has drawn mixed reaction from members of Congress and media pundits. Democratic Rep. Bennie Thompson, a ranking member of the House Homeland Security Committee whose Mississippi district was affected by Katrina, said in a statement: "It is ironic and strange that an administration that has had so little success in responding to Hurricane Katrina thinks it can solve the problem by adding another layer of bureaucracy." Critics are also scrutinizing Powell's close ties to the Bush administration. He served as president and CEO of the Amarillo-based First National Bank and was appointed in the 1990s by then Governor Bush to serve as chairman of the Board of Regents for Texas A&M University System. He also was a Bush "Pioneer," meaning he raised more than $100,000 for the Bush campaign in 2000. That same year, Powell and his wife donated $15,000 to the Bush-Cheney campaign and Republican National Committee combined, according to Politicalmoneyline.com, a research group.
But Powell has his defenders. Republican Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana said: "I'm really pleased that the president has named a single, focused federal coordinator for the hurricane recovery effort." Vitter had pressed the White House to create the position. Powell's supporters note that unlike former Federal Emergency Management Agency chief Michael Brown, the new appointee has 30 years of related job experience in financial services. Nonethless, he's facing a daunting job: Officials at the Department of Homeland Security say Powell will serve as the administration's primary liaison to state and local officials, private businesses, and Congress. Coast Guard Vice Adm. Thad Allen, who is coordinating the more immediate federal day-to-day response to Katrina, is expected to phase out of his duty by the first of next year.
No word yet on when the president will release details on the other plans he outlined in his speech, including the creation of $5,000 accounts that unemployed Gulf Coast residents can use for job training and child-care expenses during their job search.