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 Home > News & Policies > March 2001

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
March 5, 2001

Remarks by the President at Swearing-In Ceremony for Director of FEMA Joseph Allbaugh
FEMA Headquarters
Washington, D.C.

10:15 A.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. It's an honor to be here to swear in my friend. I first want to say it's a treat to see Mr. and Mrs. Allbaugh from the great state of Oklahoma, and his brother; most importantly, Diane and Taylor. Thank you all for being here. Of course, you wouldn't have missed it. (Laughter.)

When I was a governor, Joe and I used to travel a lot together, and a lot of times people we come up and say, is he your body guard? (Laughter.) He wasn't, but I always felt a little safer when he was around. And that's the kind of man he is, and that's the kind of man I wanted to run FEMA.

When the worst happens anywhere in America, I can assure you folks will be confident when Joe Allbaugh arrives on the scene. He's not just a commanding presence, or his stylish hair cut -- (laughter) -- it's his confidence, his character, and his calm when trouble comes.

This isn't mere speculation. Last Wednesday at 10:54 a.m. in the morning, an earthquake rocked the state of Washington, injuring hundreds of people and causing billion dollars of property damage. By 11:30 p.m. that night, Joe Allbaugh was on the scene, ready to assist people in need. That's the kind of man he is.

I couldn't have made it to Washington without him. And I can't tell you how honored I am that he has come to Washington to serve his country.

We never know where FEMA will be needed next, but we do know what makes this agency so effective -- more than 2,000 dedicated employees all across America; 4,000 standby employees, ready if needed; an ethic of professionalism and a willingness to work with state and local officials to help people in need.

As governor I worked with FEMA officials. Joe and I have great respect for the outgoing director, James Lee Witt, and for the acting director, John Magaw. A lot of change is needed in Washington, but in this agency, the standards are already high. Every year, many thousands of Americans live through floods and hurricanes and fires. They know from personal experience that FEMA is an example of the federal government at its best. And I'll tell you from personal experience that FEMA has a new director that speaks to America at its best.

When he acts, he'll have my full confidence. When he speaks, it will inspire confidence in others. This agency is in strong and steady hands. Joe will be at the White House many times in the next few years. In the nature of his job, they won't always be the happiest of times. But Joe will help Americans deal with the worst, in the best, most compassionate way possible.

Thank you for accepting this responsibility. (Applause.)

MR. ALLBAUGH: Mr. President, thank you for being here this morning. I am honored and humbled by your nomination, the honor, the ability to serve our country. Secretary Evans, thank you for being here. Judge Gonzalez, thank you. Good to see you again. Dr. Olivine, thank you. Many of the White House staff are here, a lot of close friends from Bush-Cheney 2000. FEMA employees -- unfortunately, we couldn't get everybody in here. We've got all the regional offices I think that are piped in.

Let me acknowledge my wife, Diane, and daughter, Taylor. I wouldn't be here without their support and love. My parents, Marvin and Peggy, all the way from Oklahoma. Not that it's that far. (Laughter.) All the way. My brother, Jay, from Kansas. I hope you all have an opportunity to meet my parents. You might get a glimpse and a gleam into why I am the way I am. I would not be here without their love and support over the many years.

By the way, this is a flat-top, not a buzz-cut. (Laughter.)

THE PRESIDENT: It's coming back. (Laughter.)

MR. ALLBAUGH: Yes. To the folks at FEMA, I am honored and touched by your warm welcome and support over the last two weeks. We got off to a quick start, as you know, as the President alluded to. I'm proud to join the family of FEMA. I'm honored to be here.

The administration moved quickly last week, as you saw, and we would not have been as effective or successful without your hard support.

Mr. President, you need to know that these folks are the backbone of our response mechanism here for the country. I consider them the Cal Ripkens, quite frankly, of the federal government. They show up, they put in their time, they make tremendous sacrifices, and when they leave when the job is done, they go home not expecting any accolades, just a job well-done. FEMA is made up of a group of doers. And I'm honored to join that crowd.

We have many days ahead of us that are going to be tough. We'll have some good times and some good laughs, probably all at my expense. (Laughter.) Our mission and employees are unique. FEMA has the opportunity and a responsibility to affect families in a positive way when they need help the most. There can be no higher calling in this service. There can be no higher calling for our country. Now we can all go back to work, and as the President would say, doing the people's business.

Thank you all for coming. We appreciate it greatly. (Applause.)

END 10:21 A.M. EST