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New FEMA chief?

James Lee Witt, the once and future FEMA chief?

Witt, taking part in a Washington press conference on catastrophe insurance, responded to a question from the Sun Herald on speculation that he would make a FEMA comeback by saying, “That’s just rumors.”

“I’m not looking for any appointed position,” he said. Witt added that he has spoken with Obama transition officials. “I told them I would do anything I could to help the new administration.”

The well-regarded Witt, who ran FEMA from 1993 to 2001, now has his own disaster recovery company. But he seemed to direct speculation about the FEMA chief position toward his company’s president, Mark Merritt, a former FEMA official.

“My hope is they get someone qualified,” Witt said.

Witt said Merritt “has that experience. I would definitely support him.”

As for Obama’s talk of breaking FEMA out from the Department of Homeland Security, Witt said he didn’t think that could happen right away but would be more likely in six months. “I would say pull it out and bring it back as a Cabinet-level independent agency,” he said.

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