James Lee Witt is currently Chief Executive Officer of Witt Associates, a public safety and crisis management consulting firm based in Washington, D.C. Witt Associates provides disaster recovery and mitigation management services to state and local governments, educational institutions, the international community and corporations.
Mr. Witt currently is a special advisor to the State of Louisiana, assisting with the nation's largest long term recovery effort in the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
In 2003-2006, Mr. Witt served as the Chief Executive Officer of the International Code Council (ICC), a 50,000 member association dedicated to building safety, and develops the codes used to construct residential and commercial buildings, including homes and schools. The majority of U.S. cities, counties, and states that adopt codes, choose building and fire safety codes developed by the ICC.
James Lee Witt has over 25 years of disaster management experience, culminating in his appointment as the Director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, where he served from 1993-2001. In this capacity, he is credited with turning FEMA from an unsuccessful bureaucratic agency to an internationally lauded all-hazards disaster management agency. His leadership abilities have been praised by nationally recognized organizations, including the Council for Excellence in Government, Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, and the National Association of Broadcasters.
Mr. Witt was appointed by President Clinton and confirmed by the U.S. Senate as Director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency in April 1993. In February 1996, President Clinton elevated Mr. Witt to cabinet status, a first for a FEMA Director. As FEMA Director, Mr. Witt coordinated federal disaster relief on behalf of President Clinton, including the response and recovery activities of 28 federal agencies and departments, the American Red Cross, and other voluntary agencies. He also oversaw the National Flood Insurance Program, the U.S. Fire Administration, and other pro-active mitigation activities that reduce loss of life and property from all types of hazards. Mr. Witt directed 2,500 employees located in Washington, DC and 10 regional offices.
From 1993 to 2000, Mr. Witt oversaw more than 350 disasters. More importantly, he was responsible for response and recovery operations for some of the most devastating disasters of all time, including the most costly flood disaster in the nation's history, the most costly earthquake, and a dozen damaging hurricanes.
As Director of FEMA, Mr. Witt was the visionary and architect of national government programs related to emergency preparedness and mitigation, response, recovery. In addition to his experience in emergency management on the State and local level, Mr. Witt has expertise integrating community-based disaster management with national emergency management strategy. He initiated Project Impact, the innovative disaster prevention program implemented in over 240 communities to make communities at the local level disaster resistant.
Mr. Witt integrated flood mitigation, control, and protection into FEMA's policy. After the devastating Midwest floods of 1993, Mr. Witt pursued an aggressive flood prone property acquisition and relocation program. By purchasing properties that were repeatedly flooded, he saved taxpayers millions of dollars when floods again ravaged the same Midwest area again in 1995.
Mr. Witt's professional career includes the formation of Witt Construction, a commercial and residential construction company. After 12 years as a successful businessman and community leader, he was elected County Judge for Yell County, serving as the chief elected official for the county, with judicial responsibilities for county and juvenile court. At age 34, he was the youngest elected county judge in Arkansas, and was later honored for his accomplishments by the National Association of Counties. After being re-elected six times to the position, Mr. Witt was tapped by then-Governor Bill Clinton to assume leadership of the Arkansas Office of Emergency Services (OES). He served as the Director of the Arkansas OES for four years.