FEMA Administrator Apologizes for Press Conference Ruse

FEMA Administrator David Paulison issued a formal apology yesterday after the agency gave journalists only 15 minutes notice of a press conference on Oct. 23. The short notice meant many reporters were unable to attend in person. A call-in phone service was made available; however, callers were only allowed to listen and could not ask questions. Making matters worse, questions were asked at the press conference by FEMA employees pretending to be journalists.

The following is Paulison's formal statement:

"On behalf of FEMA employees everywhere, I apologize for the inexcusable actions and remarkably bad judgment exhibited at a FEMA press conference last week. This was an avoidable incident that should not taint an otherwise strong response, in support of local officials, to the California wildfires. Individuals involved have been admonished and additional disciplinary actions are possible.

"Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff shares in my frustration and view that these mistakes are not reflective of the development and maturity that FEMA has achieved over the past two years.

"Transparency and credibility have been and will be tenets of everything we do. Today, we will begin making reforms in the Office of External Affairs to restore our integrity and to ensure that nothing like this ever happens again.

"In concurrence with Secretary Chertoff, Russ Knocke will serve in a temporary capacity as Acting Director of the Office of External Affairs. Russ has been serving the department as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs.

"FEMA does have extraordinary public affairs personnel. Marty Bahamonde, External Affairs Director for FEMA's Region I, is one of them, and he will join Russ as his Special Advisor for External Affairs reform and regional coordination.

"We are also changing some procedures for how we work with the media to ensure more professional and transparent interaction. These changes include providing reasonable notice for press events, permitting reporters who participate in press events telephonically to ask questions, and transcribing press events when possible for public release. Finally, under no circumstances will anyone other than media be allowed to ask questions at press events.

"I have profound respect for the critical role that the news media plays in our society and when reporting on our government. I deeply regret this incident and pledge to do everything within my ability to restore FEMA's relationship and credibility with the news media."

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