Gov. O’Malley praises feds, says ‘this is a much better FEMA than the old days’

As Hurricane Irene, downgraded to a tropical storm Sunday, continued north along the Eastern Seaboard, Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) offered praised for the assistance provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

“The federal response was excellent,” O’Malley said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

“They were with us since day one.”

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The agency, he said, was a “much better FEMA than the old days.”

O’Malley’s praise for FEMA was echoed by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) who said on “Meet the Press” that his state’s officials were “coordinating well with the federal government.”

FEMA received strong criticism for its handling of disaster-relief efforts in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, a low point for George W. Bush’s presidency.

White House officials have gone to great lengths over the weekend to portray President Obama as engaged in overseeing FEMA’s relief efforts in response to Irene. Obama held two conference calls with emergency response officials Saturday and visited the National Response Coordination Center at FEMA’s headquarters.

O’Malley said Maryland’s focus was now switching to “recovery and restoration.” He added that fatalities had remained low “because of FEMA’s partnership, because people listened we were able to avoid any big threats.”

The governor noted, however, that recovery efforts would take some time. He said 800,000 people in his state were without power and there was “no estimate on how long it would take to restore power.” Southern Maryland, which was the hardest hit area of the state, would be “digging out for a while,” he added.

FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate made the rounds on Sunday morning’s shows to caution residents of the East Coast that although the storm was downgraded, the effects could still be severe.

“Don’t let your guard down,” Fugate said Sunday on Fox News, urging people to “stay indoors.”

Assessments of FEMA were not uniformly positive, however. Republican presidential candidate Rep. Ron Paul (Texas) criticized the agency.

“It’s a system of bureaucratic centralized economic planning that is a policy that is deeply flawed,” Paul said on Sunday on Fox News. He argued that FEMA had “one of the worst reputations for a bureaucracy ever.”

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