Leadership, Legal

Bush overrides new qualifications for FEMA head

WASHINGTON — President Bush has claimed executive authority to disobey a new law in which Congress has set minimum qualifications for future heads of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Congress passed the law last week as a response to FEMA’s poor handling of Hurricane Katrina.

To shield FEMA from cronyism, Congress established new job qualifications for the agency’s director in last week’s homeland security bill. The law says the president must nominate a candidate who has “a demonstrated ability in and knowledge of emergency management” and “not less than five years of executive leadership.”

Bush signed the homeland-security bill last week. Hours later, he issued a signing statement saying he could ignore the new restrictions. Bush maintains that under his interpretation of the Constitution, the FEMA provision interfered with his power to make personnel decisions.

According to Bush, the law “purports to limit the qualifications of the pool of persons from whom the president may select the appointee in a manner that rules out a large portion of those persons best qualified by experience and knowledge to fill the office.”