Kay Goss (1941–)

Kay Goss is an author, educator, historian, lecturer, and emergency management official. Goss served as senior assistant for intergovernmental relations for two Arkansas governors (1982–1994) and was appointed associate director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), serving from 1994 to 2001. She also wrote the first full-scale biography of powerful U.S. congressman from Arkansas Wilbur D. Mills, published in 2012.

Kay Gentry Collett, a native of Fayetteville (Washington County), was born on August 7, 1941. She majored in political science, public administration, and government, with a minor in history, at the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville, graduating in 1963. She earned a master’s degree from UA in 1966 before embarking on doctoral studies in public administration at West Virginia University and doctoral studies in American history at American University.

When her major professor and mentor, Dr. Henry M. Alexander, passed away, she was recruited by Dr. Max Milam to take his place on the political science faculty at UA, and in 1971 she was promoted to assistant professor of political science. In that role, she worked to establish congressional internships, coming into contact with Congressman Mills, who served from 1939 to 1977. In 1973, she took a leave of absence from UA to work in Washington DC as legislative assistant to Congressman Ray Thornton.

While in Washington, she met and married Gene Goss, Mills’s chief of staff for the final fourteen years of his congressional tenure. They have a daughter, Susan.

From 1982 through 1993, Kay Goss served as senior assistant for intergovernmental relations for Governor Bill Clinton. In that role, she coordinated emergency management, emergency medical services, and fire service, assisting with related issues of public safety and law enforcement agencies, retirement policy, state election administration, city and county officials and employees, state employees and officials, other states, tribal communities, and international affairs. Clinton’s successor as governor, Jim Guy Tucker, asked Goss to stay on as an assistant in many of those same areas.

In 1993, after Clinton became U.S. president, Goss was nominated by him to replicate her work on a national and international scale by serving with FEMA. She was confirmed unanimously by the U.S. Senate, becoming the first woman to serve as associate director of FEMA. She served in that position through the end of Clinton’s presidency in 2001. Her areas of responsibility included overseeing national preparedness and directing training and exercises, as well as planning for 1999’s possible “Y2K” worldwide computer breakdown. She also represented the U.S. at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Civil Emergency Planning Committee and assisted USAID in establishing partnerships with Russia’s EMERCOM and Turkey’s Istanbul University, along with exchange programs with forty-three countries. In addition, she founded the FEMA Higher Education Program, which led to an increase in related degree programs across the country.

She worked with fellow Arkansan James Lee Witt of Paris (Logan County), whom Clinton had appointed as FEMA director in 1993. In 1996, President Clinton elevated FEMA to a cabinet rank. During the tenure of Witt and Goss at FEMA, the agency was able to recover from a previously poor reputation (although its reputation took another hit after they left FEMA and Louisiana and Mississippi were hit by Hurricane Katrina in 2005). By 1996, an Atlanta Journal-Constitution editorial said that, by 1996, FEMA had developed “a sterling reputation for delivering disaster-relief services,” through preparedness, customer service, and willingness to listen to local and state officials. During Goss’s term at FEMA, there were over 500 disaster areas declared in all fifty states.

While at FEMA, Goss also directed the Emergency Management Institute in Emmitsburg, Maryland; the Mount Weather Emergency Assistance Center in Berryville, Virginia; and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Civil Emergency Planning Staff in Brussels, Belgium.

After the 1994 Oklahoma City bombing, Goss and her staff launched the FEMA Higher Education Program and, later, co-chaired with Lacy Suiter the National Interagency Task Force on Counterterrorism, which would eventually be housed at the U.S. Department of Justice.

Goss conducted hundreds of hours of interviews with Wilbur Mills to do research for her book Mr. Chairman: The Life and Legacy of Wilbur D. Mills, published in 2012. She has also written four other books: The City Manager Plan in Arkansas with Professor Alexander, Political Paradox: Constitutional Revision in Arkansas with Walter Nunn, The Arkansas Constitution: A Reference Guide, and The Emergency Management Handbook, along with hundreds of articles, including serving as emergency management columnist for Domestic Preparedness Journal and on the editorial board of Review for the Journal of Emergency Management. She has lectured extensively throughout all fifty states and in many foreign countries.

After her work with FEMA in the Clinton administration, Goss worked with a number of public and private entities such as Electronic Data Systems, SRA International, and Booz Allen Hamilton. Thereafter, she formed her own company, World Disaster Management, LLC.

At the University of Arkansas, she has served as visiting lecturer in political science, interim director for international studies, and the university’s first executive in residence. She serves as chair of the J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences Advisory Board and chair of the Fulbright College Campaign Arkansas Committee. In addition, she has served as adjunct faculty at the University of North Carolina, University of Nevada at Las Vegas (UNLV), the Istanbul Technical University, and the Metropolitan College of New York.

Among her honors are the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Wilbur D. Mills Treatment Center for Alcoholism, inclusion in the International Network of Women in Emergency Management Hall of Fame, and election to chair of the Training and Education Committee for the International Association of Emergency Managers.

She serves as president of the Council for Higher Accreditation of Emergency Management Education, U.S. president of the International Emergency Management Society, vice president of the International Network of Women in Emergency Management, and vice president of the Every Child Is Ours Foundation, which launched World Disaster Management Community College in Kanana, South Africa, in 2012. She has also served on the advisory board of the Wilbur D. Mills Treatment Center for Alcoholism and Drug Abuse, which includes the Kay Goss Women’s Health Center, in Searcy (White County).

For additional information:
“Barnes and … A Conversation with Kay Collett Goss.” AETN. http://www.aetn.org/programs/barnesand/goss (accessed August 3, 2017).

“Goss Joins Political Science as Executive in Residence.” University of Arkansas News, March 10, 2014. http://news.uark.edu/articles/23654/goss-joins-political-science-as-executive-in-residence (accessed August 3, 2017).

Goss, Kay. “Legacies & Lunch: Mr. Chairman: The Life and Legacy of Wilber D. Mills.” November 6, 2013. Butler Center for Arkansas Studies. Video online at: Kay Goss Lecture (accessed August 3, 2017).

Nancy Hendricks
Garland County Historical Society


    I was an office mate of Kay’s at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville. She and that time of my life continue to be important to me. We both respected and taught Hon. Susan Webber Wright. At seventy-five years of age, I fondly remember BOTH of these fine scholars…and our faculty.

    The fine Arkansas editor and political scientist Adolph Reed was on the faculty in my time, and he was important to all of his colleagues. Kay Collett Goss, Susan Webber Wright, and Adolph Reed have been among the most important people I have ever worked with.

    James Ellsworth