Paulison said in his first public statements since his promotion, “we’re going to get those people out of the shelters, and we’re going to move and get them the help they need.”
Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff introduced Paulison Monday after embattled chief Michael Brown resigned amid criticism over the federal response to crises caused by Hurricane Katrina and media reports suggesting Brown inflated his credentials for the job.
The administration also announced that President Bush will address the nation Thursday evening from Louisiana, where he will be observing recovery efforts.
The new acting director was head of the U.S. Fire Administration, part of FEMA. Paulison is a career firefighter from Miami who was among emergency workers responding to Hurricane Andrew in 1992 and the crash of ValuJet Flight 592 in the Florida Everglades in 1996, according to a biography on FEMA’s Web site.
Paulison was named Florida Fire Chief of the Year in 1993, and was the president of the International Association of Fire Chiefs.
Paulison, a registered Democrat as of four years ago, according to an article in the Miami Herald, does not need to be confirmed by the Senate because he is becoming FEMA’s temporary director. He was confirmed by the Senate for his post as administrator of the U.S. Fire Administration. In that position, he helped FEMA transition into part of the newly created Department of Homeland Security.
“David Paulison is well-respected and someone who is a familiar face to the White House, having previously been through a Senate confirmation,” Scott McClellan, the White House spokesman, said Monday.
Paulison joins Coast Guard Vice Adm. Thad Allen, who took over coordinating the federal response to Hurricane Katrina last week.
Chertoff said the relief operation had entered a new phase, moving from evacuation and basic needs to reconstituting “communities that have been devastated.” He said local governments would take the lead in identifying the next steps.
“The federal government can’t drive permanent solutions down the throats of state and local officials,” Chertoff said. “I don’t think anyone should envision a situation in which they’re going to take a back seat. They’re going to take a front seat.”
Chertoff also said that teams of federal auditors would watch relief efforts in the stricken areas to make sure that billions of dollars’ worth of government contracts are carried out correctly.
“We want to get aid to the people who need it quickly … but we have a responsibility as stewards of the public money,” Chertoff said, according to the Associated Press.
“We’re going to cut through red tape,” he said, “but we’re not going to cut through laws and rules that govern ethics.”