Witt: FEMA Should Have Stayed Independent

James Lee Witt, believed to be the first FEMA director to have actual emergency management experience, thinks the agency should've been left alone.

Witt said FEMA's absorption into the Department of Homeland Security in 2003 hindered its effectiveness. Under President Bill Clinton, the agency was redefined and allowed to prosper; the position of FEMA director was even elevated to Cabinet-level status in 1996.

"The Bush folks called me [after 9/11] and asked what Homeland Security should look like," Witt said. "I told 'em I definitely would not put FEMA under Homeland Security. ... But they're still doing a better job than they were."

Current FEMA chief Craig Fugate, appointed in 2009, previously led the Florida Division of Emergency Management for eight years. Witt said the average stay for FEMA directors before his tenure had been 18 months.