WASHINGTON – Joe M. Allbaugh, the no-nonsense member of President Bush's "Iron Triangle" of advisers who orchestrated his presidential run, said Monday he will step down in March as director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
He is part of a growing cadre of administration officials who are leaving their jobs to eventually help Bush's re-election effort.
The gruff-talking, 6-foot-4 Allbaugh, dubbed the "master of disaster" during his Texas days as Bush's top aid, faced his toughest test after the Sept. 11 attacks.
He spent days at the rubble where terrorists struck the Pentagon and the World Trade Center, his beefy frame often shaking with emotion as he talked about search and recovery workers who performed "miracles, quite frankly, on behalf of America."
Allbaugh, 50, told Bush and White House chief of staff Andrew Card last summer that he would be leaving his post after the first of the year. He was officially tendering his resignation Monday afternoon in a meeting with the president.
Allbaugh will leave March 1, when FEMA is scheduled to fold into the new Department of Homeland Security. His deputy, Mike Brown, is expected to be a leading candidate to replace Allbaugh as FEMA's chief.
"I have been a longtime advocate for the Department of Homeland Security and now that it is a reality and the president has a great team in place, I feel I can move on to my next challenge," Allbaugh said.
He has not decided what that next step might be, Allbaugh said.
"Now is not the time to make that decision. I'm going to focus on the transition" and problems at FEMA, he said. "There's opportunities in Oklahoma. Several in Texas. Several here. And I want to take my time and make a decision that's in the best interest of my family with a clear mind."
Allbaugh is expected to be a senior adviser to Bush's re-election campaign.
He was one of Bush's "Iron Triangle" of advisers who helped Bush become governor of Texas and, later, president. Senior adviser Karl Rove is the last remaining member of the group; Karen Hughes left the White House in August to return to Texas.
Hughes and Mary Matalin, a top White House official who announced Friday she is leaving, are expected to join Allbaugh as key campaign advisers.
His lawnmower haircut and monosyllabic bluntness gave Allbaugh a drill sergeant's way of keeping Bush's troops in line. He had a reputation among staffers in Bush's gubernatorial and presidential campaigns as the one who rejected spending requests.
"I wanted a tough but fair campaign manager who would keep tight reins on the campaign budget," Bush wrote in his book, "A Charge to Keep."
The hard-nose style sometimes got Allbaugh in trouble. During April flooded, he angered Iowans when he asked "how many times the American taxpayer has to step in and take care of this flooding, which could be easily prevented."
Allbaugh has led FEMA through 89 major disasters, beginning with an earthquake registering 6.8 on the Richter scale in Nisqually, Wash., just two weeks after taking office in 2001. His agency has helped people recover from disasters as far away as Guam and Micronesia, and has obligated about $7.2 billion in disaster assistance, FEMA says.
Allbaugh was Bush's 1994 gubernatorial campaign manager and the former governor's chief of staff, where he oversaw office administration and its relationship with state agencies and legislators.
The state job helped prepare him to lead FEMA, best known as the agency that provides emergency assistance in the wake of natural disasters. It also administers the National Flood Insurance Program and Project Impact, an effort to develop storm and flood-resistant communities.
Working in Texas, Allbaugh helped shape the governor's office response to natural disasters such as tornados, floods and hurricanes.
Allbaugh entered politics at the age of 12, working for Republican Barry Goldwater's campaign. A 1974 graduate of Oklahoma State University, Allbaugh was the Oklahoma deputy secretary of transportation when Bush hired him to manage his successful 1994 gubernatorial campaign. He also had served as chief of staff for former Oklahoma Gov. Henry Bellmon.