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Clinton: FEMA chief should be experienced

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Former President Bill Clinton tells CNN's Larry King that in a disaster, the FEMA director is 'the most important person in government.'

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NEW YORK (CNN) -- Former President Bill Clinton on Friday said it should be required that any future head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency have "prior experience in emergency management."

"When a disaster strikes, that person becomes the most important person in the federal government," Clinton said on CNN's "Larry King Live."

Clinton did not directly refer to former FEMA director Michael Brown, who resigned this week amid intense criticism of his handling of the government's response to Hurricane Katrina. Before joining the Bush administration in 2001, Brown had spent the past decade as the judges and stewards commissioner of the International Arabian Horse Association.

"I think the most important thing is you probably should have some sort of requirement that anybody who has the job has prior experience in emergency management," Clinton told King. "It's a very serious, important job."

He noted that his FEMA chief, James Lee Witt, had headed up emergency management in Arkansas.

"I made it a Cabinet-level agency, and when a disaster struck, everybody in the government worked for that person."

Clinton also said FEMA functioned better when it was an independent agency. FEMA now is within the Department of Homeland Security, which was formed after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

"I'm biased; I liked it the way it was," he said.

He added that if the agency remains within the Homeland Security Department, it "should be somehow made quasi-independent" to be able to more effectively respond to disasters.

Despite FEMA's rough start in the days immediately after Katrina's landfall, Clinton said he has been impressed with the way Coast Guard Vice Adm. Thad Allen has taken on the leadership role in the disaster areas. Allen was tapped to head up FEMA's on-site operations.

"We've got everybody on the same page now. It looks like we've got everybody working together, and we've got a huge job to do," Clinton said. "We just all need to be rowing in the same boat, trying to get people's lives back together and get plans in place to rebuild the area, particularly in New Orleans."

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