FEMA finds redemption in strong leadership

Vice Adm. Harvey Johnson spoke today at the Interagency Resources Management Conference in Williamsburg, Va. 1105 Government Information Group, publisher of Washington Technology, manages and produces IRMCO for the General Services Administration.

WILLIAMSBURG, Va. ? Strong leadership is essential for agencies to fulfill their missions, but never so much as when the agency is trying to rebound from a major public stumble. The Federal Emergency Management Agency, widely blamed for botching the federal response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005, is on such a path.

Vice Adm. Harvey Johnson, deputy administrator and chief operating officer of FEMA, speaking today at the Interagency Resource Management Conference, said good leaders must not only be capable and competent, but also innovative and forward-thinking. According to Johnson, the goal should be not just to carry out the daily duties, but also to make practices and policies that will be good for the future.

Johnson emphasized the importance of experience. Leaders know what is needed to address an issue "because they've been in that situation before," he said.

FEMA in particular has begun making the kinds of systemic changes Johnson suggests. For the first time, he said, the agency is dealing with the nation's hurricane-prone states as a single region rather the individual governments.

The agency is also working on developing a one-stop process for citizens to apply for federal disaster relief. Rather than having to go to all 43 agencies that offer some form of aid, citizens would be able to provide their information to single call center, which would then validate the data, analyze it and let the citizen know which types of aid might be available.

Quoting President Kennedy from a 1960 speech, Johnson said there are four key qualities each leader must possess: courage, judgment, integrity and dedication.

About the Author

Technology journalist Michael Hardy is a former FCW editor.

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