Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps? (Michael Brown a "Casualty" Department)
Not Race, But Class

The FEMA Spoils System

Rebecca MacKinnon posts a Bloomberg article by Mike Forsythe:

RConversation: FEMA Spoils System: Bloomberg: My friend, Bloomberg correspondent Mike Forsythe, has given me permission to reproduce his article on FEMA in full, as it's not easily available online:

FEMA Spoils System Leaves Few Experts Managing Crisis Agency, By Michael Forsythe: Sept. 8 (Bloomberg) -- The U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency's upper ranks are mostly staffed with people who share two traits: loyalty to President George W. Bush and little or no background in emergency management.... The lack of experience among Brown's top lieutenants in responding to disasters was revealed by Hurricane Katrina, said Paul Light, a professor of organizational studies at New York University. It also marks a reversion to the days when the agency was treated as a turkey farm'' -- a place where political operatives could get high-level jobs -- after being led by professionals during the Clinton administration, he said.These guys kind of have a deer-in-the headlights look; they haven't been through this kind of thing and it shows,'' said Light, the founding director of the Center for Public Service at the Brookings Institution, a Washington-based research group. ``I'm afraid FEMA has gone backwards in time to the old era of a more traditional campaign-loyalty position.''

Brown, 50, and his agency have come under fire from both Democrats and Republicans for responding slowly to Katrina, the storm that battered Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama and may have claimed thousands of lives.... Bush singled out Brown for praise. ``Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job,'' Bush said at a stop in Mobile, Alabama, on Sept. 2. The top FEMA officials are well-qualified for their jobs, and they don't get them through a spoils system, said Russ Knocke, a spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security, yesterday. ''It's certainly not the case that the senior positions are rewards for political loyalty,'' Knocke said. ''There is experience in their background relevant for doing their jobs, whether in policy or management.''...

Henry Renteria, head of California's emergency-services administration, has more than two decades of experience in the field. Dave Liebersbach, director of the Alaska Division of Homeland Security, has four decades of experience. Liebersbach, who said Brown pretty much knows what he's doing,'' suggested that the FEMA director's shortcomings derive more from his lack of experience in dealing with Congress. Also, unlike Witt,he doesn't have the president's ear,'' Liebersbach said.... ``There's been a huge demoralization of the professional FEMA staff,'' said Liebersbach, the outgoing president of the National Emergency Management Association, a Lexington, Kentucky-based group that represents state directors of emergency services.

Witt, who took the FEMA job in 1993, had managers with experience. His chief of staff, Jane Bullock, was a 22-year veteran of the agency when she left in 2001. One of Witt's deputy directors, Mike Walker, had been an employee of Democratic politicians, although he served as acting secretary of the Army before he came to the post and is a military veteran. George Haddow, a research scientist specializing in disaster management, was deputy chief of staff under Bullock.

Brown's lieutenants lack that emergency planning background. During Bush's first presidential campaign, Rhode and former Deputy Chief of Staff Scott Morris worked in Austin, Texas, with Rhode serving as deputy director of national advance operations and Morris working as a media consultant, according to their FEMA biographies. Rhode and Morris both worked at the U.S. Small Business Administration after Bush's 2001 inauguration. FEMA's chief of staff position has been vacant.... Morris also worked for the Republican National Committee as an assistant to the executive director and was a media strategist for former Senator Robert Dole when he ran for president in 1996, according to his official biography.... Altshuler, 31, worked at the White House in 2001 as a ``senior advance representative'' earning $51,250 a year, according to a White House pay list published by the Washington Post at the time. Rhode and Altshuler couldn't be reached for comment.

Because of their backgrounds, the FEMA executives don't readily know which county officials are competent, which cities have the right equipment and who to call for specific needs, Light said. There is a profession of disaster preparedness,'' Light said.It is a well-developed profession. Witt came out of that community. Witt had a very good Rolodex, and at the end of the day, that's really important.'' Bullock said that in the pre-Witt era, FEMA was used as a dumping ground for political appointees if they didn't have a place to go.'' In the present administration, she said, the people who have gone to FEMA have not had the emergency management background to understand what needs to be done to respond to a disaster of the magnitude we're experiencing.''...

Impeach George W. Bush. Impeach him now.

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