Despite panel approval, senator stalls FEMA nominee

Despite panel approval, senator stalls FEMA nominee

Eds: SUB 4th graf to UPDATE with Homeland Security spokesman declining comment

By LARA JAKES JORDAN

Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) Angered over FEMA’s flood insurance program, a senator said late Thursday he would block the nomination of R. David Paulison as the agency’s chief in the latest hitch in the push for his approval before the start of the hurricane season.

A spokesman for Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Ky., said he will delay Paulison’s confirmation until the Federal Emergency Management Agency develops a suitable appeals process for property owners whose flood insurance claims are rejected.

FEMA administers the insurance program. Bunning spokesman Mike Reynard said the agency was supposed to establish an appeals process by December 2004.

Bunning “is going to hold the nomination until they meet the intention of Congress by establishing an appeals process that will help the victims of floods,” Reynard said. “It has to be a real and meaningful appeals process.”

Homeland Security spokesman Russ Knocke declined comment Thursday night on the stalled confirmation. The Homeland Security Department oversees FEMA.

The surprise delay surfaced hours after a Senate panel approved Paulison’s nomination after he pledged to refile three years of tax returns to correct questionable travel deductions.

In a statement, Paulison said he was “pleased to have this matter raised and resolved” after the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee this week found errors in his state and federal returns.

Paulison, who has served as acting FEMA director since September, said he relied on ultimately bad advice from his accountant in filing the returns from 2003 to 2005. It was not immediately known how much the deductions were worth.

“I will file as soon as possible the required federal and state returns and will pay all taxes, penalties or interest that may be required to immediately correct these issues,” Paulison said in a letter Thursday to Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., who lead the committee.

That satisfied the panel’s concerns as it wrapped up its review of Paulison’s returns. It approved his nomination by voice vote and sent it to the full Senate for consideration.

“We do not believe it should disqualify him,” Collins said. Lieberman said Paulison “answered the committee’s questions on this matter completely.”

The 2006 hurricane season begins next week, on June 1. Paulison has had a three-decade firefighting career, including a stint as chief of the Miami-Dade County fire department and head of the U.S. Fire Administration.

On the Net:

Federal Emergency Management Agency: http://www.fema.gov

Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee: http://hsgac.senate.gov/