Lee: FEMA working on biz relationships

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is making sure proper business relationships are in place before it responds to this year’s hurricane season, the agency’s new deputy director of operations said today.

“Business relationships established on the fly are not as efficient for the taxpayer as we would like them to be,” Deidre Lee said at a Northern Virginia Government Contractors Council luncheon in Falls Church, Va.

Congress and the public berated FEMA last year after the agency spent millions of dollars on last-minute hurricane relief deals that yielded few results.

FEMA and the Homeland Security and Defense departments have made mistakes in their response to last year’s hurricanes, Lee said. “We have renewed focus to ensure we get it right,” she said.

FEMA is emulating DOD in establishing business relationships before crises occur, she said. “The U.S. goes to war shoulder to shoulder with contractors,” said Lee, former director of defense procurement and acquisition policy at DOD.

DHS and FEMA continue to work on response efforts to last year’s devastating storms, Lee said.

Almost three weeks into her new job, Lee said she expects to spend much of her first year at FEMA on acquisition. The agency must put a lot of money in place quickly to prepare for and react to the 2006 hurricane season, which starts June 1, she said.

FEMA is hiring more contracting officers, Lee said. The agency is hiring staff members under two- and four-year contracts and for permanent positions, she said. It is also hiring contractors.

Lee is responsible for overseeing and reinvigorating FEMA’s acquisition programs to aid its disaster response and recovery operations. She also provides counsel to DHS’ chief procurement officer and the undersecretary for management.

A 30-year veteran of federal government work, Lee left the General Services Administration in March after serving as its assistant commissioner for integrated technology services.

Her departure was another blow to the embattled agency, which has been hemorrhaging senior staff members in recent months since losing revenue and customers to alternative procurement methods.

Lee said she enjoys her new job and is happy at the agency. “It is a wonderful place to be,” she said.

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