As Hurricane Season Nears, Is FEMA Ready?

ByABC News

April 7, 2006 — -- Seven months after Katrina, two months before the new hurricane season and one day after R. David Paulison was nominated to be the new head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, two men who once held that job said they would not have taken it this time.

"If I had been Mr. Paulison, I would have said, 'You can take it and put it somewhere,'" said James Lee Witt, former FEMA director.

Witt is widely credited with rebuilding FEMA in the 1990s. He said Paulison -- who was reportedly offered the job after seven others turned it down -- will have trouble dealing with the next big storm because FEMA is underfunded, understaffed and overwhelmed by bureaucracy. It's now under the sprawling Department of Homeland Security.

"You know what they're making FEMA right now?" Witt said. "They're making them a logistics and check-writing agency."

His sentiments were echoed in a panel discussion today at the New School in Manhattan by another former FEMA director, the much-maligned Michael Brown, blamed for failures during Katrina. Brown said unless FEMA is pulled out from under Homeland Security, Paulison will be hobbled.

"The current structure at FEMA is not going to allow him to succeed," Brown said.

According to Witt, we are no better prepared for hurricanes seven months after Katrina. "What's changed?" he said.

Paulison said that a lot has changed at FEMA. It's hiring new people, buying new communications equipment and honing its emergency plans, he said.

"Both of those men are colleagues of mine," Paulison said. "They have their opinion, I have mine. I'm simply gonna focus on what I have to do and not necessarily focus on the people shooting arrows."

He said FEMA is ready for the hurricane season, but most experts who spoke with ABC News said FEMA is probably no better prepared now than it was before Katrina.

ABC News' Dan Harris reported this story for "World News Tonight."

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