WASHINGTON – Donald Powell (search), chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., has been assigned to oversee the federal government's disaster recovery efforts in the Gulf Coast, the Bush administration announced Tuesday.
Powell, 64, a wealthy contributor to President Bush's presidential campaign, will be in charge of the long-term plans to rebuild the states hit by hurricanes Katrina and Rita in the late summer. The sluggish federal response to Hurricane Katrina (search), the first and most damaging of the two, particularly has been widely criticized.
Powell will be the administration's point person for dealing with Congress, state and local governments, and private businesses on the hurricane relief efforts. The top federal official currently overseeing day-to-day Katrina recovery efforts, Coast Guard Vice Admiral Thad Allen (search), will leave that post by year's end, officials said.
"Don has the leadership, ideas and optimism that the residents of the Gulf Coast Region deserve," Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff (search) said in a statement announcing Powell's role.
Lawmakers from Gulf Coast (search) states had pleaded for a federal czar-like official to oversee the reconstruction of the devastated region after Katrina — in part to safeguard against improprieties in awarding lucrative reconstruction contracts. In late September, Bush signaled he would do so, but first wanted local officials to produce a vision for how they want their rebuilt communities to look.
"I'm really pleased that the President has named a single, focused federal coordinator for the hurricane recovery effort," said Sen. David Vitter (search), R-La., who was among officials pushing the White House to create the post. Vitter said he planned to meet with Power soon "to begin an important dialogue about just what leadership and focus is needed on the ground in Louisiana."
Louisiana's other senator, Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu (search), had called for the recovery czar to report directly to the president. But Powell will report to Chertoff, who oversees the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Powell traveled in early September to areas in Louisiana and Mississippi struck by Katrina, and met with state banking commissioners and local bankers as he inspected the damage to banks' operations and services.
The FDIC and other federal banking agencies urged banks and thrifts in the affected areas to help customers by, among other things, waiving ATM fees and easing restrictions on cashing out-of-state checks.
Known for his affable, informal attitude, Powell is described as having more than 30 years experience in the financial services industry. Qualifications for federal response officials have been fiercely scrutinized since Katrina, and former FEMA Director Michael Brown resigned amid questions about his experience to handle disasters.
Before becoming FDIC chairman in August 2001, Powell was president and chief executive officer of First National Bank in Amarillo, Texas, and chairman of the board of regents for the Texas A&M University System — an earlier Bush appointment.
One of the "Pioneers" who raised at least $100,000 for Bush's presidential campaign, Powell has great personal wealth. He was praised by the banking industry when Bush appointed him to chair the FDIC.
Congress has so far provided $62 billion for Gulf Coast hurricane recovery efforts, of which about $40 billion has yet to be spent.
Katrina, which hit Aug. 29, flooded New Orleans and devastated much of the Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama coasts. Hurricane Rita arrived two weeks later, damaging parts of coastal Texas and Louisiana.
Hurricane Wilma last week caused widespread wind damage across south Florida.