Senators Question FEMA Nominee's Tax Returns

Questionable deductions on three years of R. David Paulison's tax returns threw an unexpected hitch into his Senate confirmation to become permanent chief of the nation's disaster response agency, just days before hurricane season starts.

A spokesman for the Federal Emergency Management Agency said Paulison planned to file three years' worth of amended tax returns as early as Wednesday afternoon, and immediately pay back any money owed.

It was not immediately known how much the deductions were worth or specifically what they were for. FEMA spokesman Aaron Walker described them as for "living expenses."

"We want to be as transparent on this as possible," Walker said. "We want to work with the committee to make sure that this doesn't hinder his nomination in any fashion."

It was not initially clear what effect, if any, the disclosure would have on his confirmation. Walker said Paulison was "absolutely not" considering withdrawing his nomination.

Paulison has been FEMA's acting chief since last September, two weeks after Hurricane Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast. Senators raised the concerns at a Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing considering Paulison's nomination as FEMA's permanent director, at which members of both parties praised his work.

He 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.

"Since this is new information to come to our attention, I want to share that with our colleagues," said Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, the committee chairman who led the hearing. She said Republican and Democratic committee staffers would interview Paulison and his accountant about the deductions in a closed-door session Wednesday afternoon.

"And I support that also and, quite frankly, I just became aware of it last night also," Paulison said. "So I'm looking forward to it."

None of the several Democratic senators at Wednesday's hearing mentioned Paulison's taxes.

Leslie Phillips, a spokeswoman for Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut, the top Democrat on the panel, said Democratic staffers first raised questions late Tuesday about Paulison's returns. She declined further comment, citing concerns about the tax returns' confidentiality.

Walker, the FEMA spokesman, said the questions centered on Paulison's tax returns from 2003 to 2005 — which were vetted by a private accountant before they were filed.

"At this point, it looks like some of the guidance that Chief Paulison's accountant was giving him is questionable," Walker said.

Paulison's tax returns were not immediately available for public release, Walker said.