WASHINGTON, Oct. 26 (Xinhua) -- The Federal Emergency
Management Agency (FEMA), the chief disaster agency of the United States, is
again under public scrutiny Friday as facts emerged that it staged a fake press
conference earlier this week.
According to various news reports, the agency's
deputy administrator, Harvey Johnson, had an unusually friendly audience at an
Oct. 23 news briefing on his agency's response to the California wildfires with
the participation of only his own spokesmen.
FEMA drafted at least four of its employees to play
the part of reporters at a hastily called news conference when no members of the
media showed up.
As a result, Johnson took questions like, "Are you
happy with FEMA's response so far?" from agency spokesmen Mike Widomski, Cindy
Taylor, Pat Philbin and Ali Kirin.
FEMA Administrator David Paulison was flying to
California at the time. It is unclear whether he knew about the staged news
Johnson issued a statement Friday apologizing for the
error and promised to change the agency's news procedures.
Both the White House and the Homeland Security
Department criticized FEMA's conduct.
White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said it is not
appropriate that the questions were posed by agency staffers instead of
reporters, and the agency should take responsibility for it.
The Homeland Security Department, which includes
FEMA, said the incident is a "simply inexcusable and offensive mistake."
The department's spokeswoman Laura Keehner, said
punishment may apply in the case.
FEMA had been heavily criticized for its sluggish
response to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.