Daily Archives: September 17, 2005
Wonderful advice from Ron Gilbert, contract policy advisor of Alabama Arise *.
I am passing this on to you because it definitely worked for me and
we all could use more calm in our lives.
By following the simple advice I heard on a Dr. Phil show, I have
finally found inner peace. Dr. Phil proclaimed: “The way to achieve
inner peace is to finish all the things you’ve started.”
So I looked around my house to see all the things I started and
hadn’t finished, and before leaving the house this morning, I
finished off a fifth of Crown Royal, a bottle of Merlot, a bottle
of Bailey’s, a bottle of Kahlua, a package of Oreos, the remainder
of both Prozac and Valium prescriptions, the rest of the
cheesecake, some saltines and a box of chocolates. You have no idea how freaking good I feel.
*Arise is a coalition of 132 religious, community, and civic groups that promote state policies to improve the lives of low-income people.
President Bush’s speech in New Orleans Thursday night reminded me of when we were teenagers in church youth group and were asked to speak at Sunday night church services. Some of our number actually went to a lot of trouble and wrote good speeches, but at 15, the delivery was halting and evidenced the fact that we had rather be pretty much anywhere than the current coordinates. Bush’s speech was well written and had a great ending. By the time the speech was over, I’m certain that the spirits of the New Deal were smiling and that the ghosts of true conservatives were having the ghoulish equivalent of a coronory.
But let’s look at where we really are and why we got this way. In a front page NY Times story today we see:
Nearly three weeks after Hurricane Katrina cut its devastating path, FEMA …. is faltering in its effort to aid hundreds of thousands of storm victims, local officials, evacuees and top federal relief officials say. The federal aid hot line mentioned by President Bush in his address to the nation on Thursday cannot handle the flood of calls, leaving thousands of people unable to get through for help, day after day.
S-town Mike cites a Memphis article that details how the government is paying thousands of dollars a day for trucks loaded with water and ice to idle in Memphis waiting for FEMA coordination.
How did this happen? FEMA was created during the Carter administration and given ‘extraordinary’ powers under the Reagan administration. FEMA under Bush 1 was criticized as being politizied and was broadly lambasted for the response to Hurricane Andrew. Many people think that Bush 1’s loss to Clinton can be largely tied to FEMA response to Andrew.
Clinton actually appointed an Emergency Specialist to run FEMA. James Witt had been the head of Arkansas EM under Clinton’s governorship and was universally lauded as a non-partisan effective manager, even today by many of the Bush II apologists. When Bush II was elected be nominated his Texas campaign manager, Joe Allbaugh, to run FEMA.
An article in Washington Monthly written in 2003 details:
In a May 15, 2001, appearance before a Senate appropriations subcommittee, Allbaugh signaled that the new, stripped-down approach would be applied at FEMA as well. “Many are concerned that federal disaster assistance may have evolved into both an oversized entitlement program and a disincentive to effective state and local risk management,” he said. “Expectations of when the federal government should be involved and the degree of involvement may have ballooned beyond what is an appropriate level.”
As a result, says a disaster program administrator who insists on anonymity, “We have to compete for our jobs–we have to prove that we can do it cheaper than a contractor.” And when it comes to handling disasters, the FEMA employee stresses, cheaper is not necessarily better, and the new outsourcing requirements sometimes slow the agency’s operations.
Under Bush (and sadly approved by congress), FEMA was folded into Homeland Security and had many of its emergency preparedness functions transferred to other sections of the new department. As a result, morale for long-time FEMA managers suffered, resulting in the loss of many key staffers in the first two years of the Bush II presidency.
An article in the Wall Street Journal from September, 2004 stated:
“Once the highest-ranked government office for worker satisfaction, FEMA is now dead last, according to surveys conducted by labor unions and the federal government’s Office of Personnel Management. In the most recent union survey, 60% of FEMA staffers said they would take a job elsewhere if one were offered, and 80% of respondents said they thought FEMA has become a poorer agency since joining Homeland Security.”
As implied in the earlier quote by Allbaugh, out-sourcing and hiring consultants became the chief focus of FEMA in conjunction with much of the philosophy writ by Bush II and his staff.
In 2003, William Waugh, a disaster expert at Georgia State University who has written training programs for FEMA, warned that the rise of a “consultant culture” has not served emergency programs well. “It’s part of a widespread problem of government contracting out capabilities,” he says. “Pretty soon governments can’t do things because they’ve given up those capabilities to the private sector. And private corporations don’t necessarily maintain those capabilities.”
Allbaugh who was not lauded by anybody, left the Bush administration for lobbying pastures. Unfortunately, his leaving did not signal the end of his influence. He recommended Mike Brown, his old college roomie, who had little practical emergency preparedness experience. In a move that speaks louder than any words possibly can, the Bush administration, even AFTER 9/11, named this resume-padding horse-show-running boob as the director of FEMA.
Even Bill Kristol, a leader of the neo-con movement and a major Bush apologist stated that he could not find any reason why ‘this man’ got that job.
FEMA did not create Katrina. But the lack of interest from the Bush administration along with the politization of the agency has left the victims of Katrina to reap the fruits of ‘the whirlwind’.
Based on the contents of his speech, Bush has apparently seen the federal light. His words sound good, his proposals are vast and expensive, and he sounds earnest.
But words aren’t unsnarling the confluence of the consultancy culture that helped bring us this mess.
Some say FEMA stands for ‘Failure to Effectively Manage Anything’. I’m thinking that maybe it really means: Feeble Execution – Mostly Air.
Here’s hoping that FEMA re-attains the status it held during the CLINTON years.