- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 5, 2009


Florida responder to lead FEMA

NEW ORLEANS | President Obama on Wednesday nominated a Florida emergency manager to lead the Federal Emergency Management Agency and said the government would avoid the “failures of the past” that the nation saw during Hurricane Katrina.

Craig Fugate, director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management, is Mr. Obama’s choice for FEMA administrator and will visit the New Orleans area Thursday with two Cabinet members surveying recovery efforts, the White House said.

“From his experience as a first responder to his strong leadership as Florida’s emergency manager, Craig has what it takes to help us improve our preparedness, response and recovery efforts and I can think of no one better to lead FEMA,” Mr. Obama said.

The choice drew praise from Florida’s current and former governors, both Republicans, who have seen Mr. Fugate’s work up close.

“It’s a great choice,” former Gov. Jeb Bush told The Washington Times in an e-mail, punctuating his response with an exclamation point.

Mr. Bush, the brother of former President George W. Bush, appointed Mr. Fugate to his current post in 2001.

Gov. Charlie Crist also lauded Mr. Fugate, whom he reappointed, as someone with “poise, calm and professionalism.”


Obama hosts dinner for Congress’ leaders

President Obama said he wants Democrats and Republicans to realize they share many interests, an appeal for cooperation as congressional leaders sat down together to dine Wednesday evening at the White House.

Mr. Obama welcomed the Democratic chairmen of congressional committees and the ranking Republicans on those committees, along with their spouses, to a packed East Room for dinner. About 200 people joined Mr. Obama, Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and their wives for the latest effort in the administration’s charm offensive, coming in the midst of congressional consideration of a $410 billion spending bill and future debate over Mr. Obama’s $3.6 trillion budget proposal for the next year.

Mr. Obama, whose economic stimulus plan passed with only three Republican votes in the Senate, acknowledged it was not going to be an easy road.

“We are go to have some monumental debates taking place over the next several months and years,” he said during his brief welcome.

“We also know that we’re not always going to agree on everything, but given how hard so many of you are working on both sides of the aisle - day in, day out - we thought it was important for us to step back for a moment, remind ourselves that we have things in common - family, friends, laughter - and hopefully we’ll have a chance to appreciate each other a little bit, take a timeout before we dive back into the game.”


First daughters get new swing set

First daughters Malia and Sasha Obama got a big surprise after school Wednesday: a brand-new swing set.

They squealed with delight upon seeing it, a spokeswoman for the first lady said.

President Obama and his wife, Michelle, went to work while the girls were at school, having the set installed on the south grounds of the White House within sight of the Oval Office, where their father spends plenty of time.

Late last year as the couple planned the family’s move to Washington, they had discussed with the chief usher at the White House ways to make the historic residence feel more like home for their girls, said Katie McCormick Lelyveld, a spokeswoman for Mrs. Obama.

Malia and Sasha, ages 10 and 7, had never lived anywhere but Chicago.


Labor confident new rules will pass

With renewed support from the White House, labor officials said Wednesday they are confident that legislation making it easier to unionize workplaces will pass Congress this year.

President Obama offered some of his most supportive comments for the Employee Free Choice Act since he took office this week, telling AFL-CIO members in a videotaped message Tuesday that he will work to pass the bill.

“As we confront this crisis and work to provide health care to every American, rebuild our nation’s infrastructure, move toward a clean energy economy and pass the Employee Free Choice Act, I want you to know that you will always have a seat at the table,” Mr. Obama told the federation as it held its winter meeting in Miami Beach.

Bill Samuel, the AFL-CIO’s legislative director, dismissed speculation that some Democratic supporters may waver under pressure from business groups.

Mr. Samuel said he expects the long-anticipated bill to be introduced “in days or weeks” and a vote as early as sometime this spring.


Auditors: NASA has spending issues

NASA can land a spacecraft on a peanut-shaped asteroid 150 million miles away, but it doesn’t come close to hitting the budget target for building its spacecraft, according to congressional auditors.

This week, auditors found that on nine projects alone NASA is nearly $1.1 billion over cost estimates that were set in the last couple of years.

Congress’ financial watchdog, the Government Accountability Office, reviewed NASA’s newest big-money projects and found most were either over budget, late or both. That doesn’t include two of NASA’s largest spending projects whose costs have wildly fluctuated and still aren’t firm - replacements for the space shuttle fleet and Hubble Space Telescope.

Historically, overruns have caused NASA to run low on money, forcing it to shelve or delay other projects. Often, the agency just asks taxpayers for more money.

NASA got $1 billion from the new stimulus package. It’s to be spent on climate-watching satellites and exploration among other things.

The space agency has a budget of about $18 billion. Its cost overrun problems will be the subject of a House Science and Technology Committee hearing Thursday.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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