LEAKED FEMA MEMO #2; David Paulison Promises ‘New FEMA’
October 30, 2007
On the heels of another mia culpa statement from FEMA, PRNewser received another anonymous leak with the full text of an all-staff memo sent today by Administrator David Paulison. The memo lays out the “egregious decision making” of the Director of External Affairs (John “Pat” Philbin) and his staff.
October 29, 2007
MEMORANDUM FOR: All FEMA Employees
FROM: R. David Paulison Administrator
SUBJECT: External Affairs Reforms Following Tuesday’s Press Conference
FEMA has been in the news for the past week as we have effectively engaged our many partners in aggressive support of the State of California in their fight against one of the largest firestorms in the state’s history. The collective effort of our Headquarters, Region IX and field staff, the inter-agency team in the NRCC and Region IX RRCC, and the JFO has been remarkable and particularly effective.
Last Tuesday, as the FEMA organization was ramping up to support the State of California, the Public Affairs staff was inundated with media inquiries on the event. In an effort to rapidly respond to the media, the FEMA External Affairs staff hurriedly arranged a press briefing. Without intending to deceive, they nevertheless lost perspective of the core imperative that they preserve the credibility of our agency and proceeded to make a series of serious mistakes and extremely poor decisions that included the following:
• In their rush to get information out, the media was only given 15 minutes notice prior to the briefing. Inadequate notice is not acceptable as it essentially prevented the media from attending.
• The conference call was set up with media access restricted to a “listen only” capability. It is inappropriate to provide the media with anything other than a “call in” that provides full access to a FEMA spokesperson during a press event. The event should have been set-up so media not physically present could have posed questions of the Deputy Administrator.
• Despite having specific indications of media interest, FEMA employees posed questions to the Deputy Administrator that they had received from the media earlier that morning. Under no circumstances is it appropriate for FEMA employees to pose questions during a FEMA press event.
• The Deputy Administrator answered these questions without having any prior knowledge of the questions or arrangements for the event, and while accurate information was being provided, there were no media representatives present.
These actions should not have occurred. The failure to properly schedule, or to cancel a press conference that had no press in attendance, or capability to ask questions telephonically, represented egregious decision making by the Director of External Affairs and his staff. Their actions represented a breach of ethical practice that tore at the credibility of FEMA, the Deputy Administrator and that of their own Office. I do not condone their actions, no matter how well intended, and have conveyed my displeasure directly through formal reprimand and admonishment to those involved. As I continue to investigate this matter further, I may take additional disciplinary measures. While this incident is inexcusable, it is not irreparable. We have endured other regrettable events. We are an agency that learns from our mistakes. And, we are now a stronger agency in the midst of a transformation, and at a point where the nation is beginning to benefit from our improvements. I expect that the External Affairs program will follow this same course of transformation. I have asked Mr. Russ Knocke, the Secretary’s Deputy Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs, to take interim charge as the Acting Director of External Affairs to assist us in developing new procedures and engage in a review of our External Affairs program. This review is already underway and will be completed expeditiously so we may effectively address shortfalls and build a stronger External Affairs program. I will also ask for his assistance in identifying a permanent Director of External Affairs. I ask for your ongoing support and participation as we continue to focus on building New FEMA and strengthening our core capabilities while we work through this incident. The real story of last week continues into this week – how extraordinarily well the response and recovery operation are being conducted in California – and need not suffer because of a lapse in our media communications. I am extremely displeased by what transpired and will make the necessary changes in order to regain confidence and credibility in the eyes of the people we serve.