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FEMA Director Allbaugh to step down

FEMA Director Joe Allbaugh
FEMA Director Joe Allbaugh

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Joe Allbaugh will step down as director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the White House said Monday.

Allbaugh was President Bush's national campaign chairman in 2000 and has been one of his closest advisers. He will leave the Bush administration when FEMA is folded into the new Department of Homeland Security on March 1.

"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 in a statement Monday.

Allbaugh was campaign manager in Bush's first run for Texas governor, in 1994. He was Bush's chief of staff in Austin and continued as one of the inner circle of advisers when Bush became president.

"Joe is one of the president's staunchest supporters and good friends," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said. "The president is going to miss him a great deal. We're all on the staff level going to miss Joe a great deal. He's a great guy -- a real kind man, a gentle giant."

Allbaugh directed FEMA's response to the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York, Pennsylvania and Virginia, which has amounted to more than $5.2 billion in assistance.

This year, Allbaugh has directed FEMA's preparations for and response to Tropical Storm Isidore and Hurricane Lili as well as wildfires, floods and other emergencies that struck the nation.

He is one of a number of top Bush administration officials who have left their jobs recently.

The White House announced Friday that Mary Matalin will leave her position as a top adviser to Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney and will return to the private sector effective December 31. Karen Hughes left the position of White House counselor this year to return to Texas.

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