“We’re going to get those people out of the shelters, and we’re going to move and get them the help they need,” David Paulison said in his first public comments since taking the job.
Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff introduced Mr Paulison as the Bush administration tried to deflect criticism for the sluggish initial federal response to the hurricane and its disastrous aftermath.
Mr Chertoff said that while clean-up, relief and reconstruction from Katrina is the government’s top priority, the administration would not let down its guard on other potential dangers.
“The world is not going to stop moving because we are very focused on Katrina,” Mr Chertoff said.
Mr Paulison, named to the post yesterday, said he was busy “getting brought up to speed.” He replaced Michael Brown, who resigned on Monday, three days after being removed from his post as the top onsite federal official in charge of the government’s response.
A Miami native who formerly was head of the US Fire Administration, part of FEMA, Mr Paulison was an emergency worker who responded to Hurricane Andrew when it raked South Florida in 1992.
Mr Paulison said US President George W Bush called him last night and “thanked me for coming on board.”
Mr Bush promised that he would have “the full support of the federal government”, Mr Paulison said.
Mr Chertoff said the relief operation had entered a new phase.
Initially, he said, the most important priority was evacuating people, getting them to safety, providing food, water and medical care.
“Now we have to reconstitute the communities that have been devastated,” Mr Chertoff said.
He said the federal government would look increasingly to state and local officials for guidance on rebuilding the devastated communities along the Gulf Coast.
“The federal government can’t drive permanent solutions down the throats of state and local officials,” Mr Chertoff said.
“I don’t think anyone should envision a situation in which they’re going to take a back seat. They’re going to take a front seat,” he said.
Mr Chertoff said teams of federal auditors were being dispatched to the stricken areas to make sure that billions of dollars worth of government contracts were being properly spent.
“We want to get aid to the people who need it quickly ... but we have a responsibility as stewards of the public money,” Mr Chertoff said.
“We’re going to cut through red tape, but we’re not going to cut through laws and rules that govern ethics.”