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September 14, 2005

Ditch the hacks and guard the money

"Katrina exposed serious problems in our response capability at all levels of government, and to the extent that the federal government didn't fully do its job right, I take responsibility." -- President George Bush, Sept. 13, 2005

We will be many steps down the right road if the President follows that acknowledgement by calling off his spinmeisters and by cooperating fully with Congress as it undertakes the necessary re-examination of the Department of Homeland Security.

Three items are critical:

1. Get the hacks out of FEMA.

2. Make sure the $62.5 billion-and-growing in government relief money is well spent.

3. Re-examine the structure of the cobbled-together Department of Homeland Security.

I'll elaborate, but first a word for those many good people who are grumbling about the shortcomings of New Orleans's mayor and Louisiana's governor. I don't much care if New Orleans hangs its mayor or gives him a medal. If they're short the needed item, be glad to send either the rope or the medal. Same for Louisiana and its governor. Local issues for the locals to settle.

For the rest of us, the shortcomings in the Homeland Security Department are front and center.

Regarding the hacks: The departure of FEMA director Michael Brown is an excellent start. (And let's never forget that it was Democrat Joe Liebermann who chaired the Senate committee that rolled over and confirmed the resume-less Mr. Brown to his high position.)

Beyond Brown, the out-of-here list should include:

--Patrick J. Rhode, Mr. Brown's chief of staff and the man "responsible for the day-to-day operations of the agency." Mr. Rhode is a former TV reporter in Arkansas and Alabama, was an advance man for the Bush 2000 campaign, and later for President Bush. He was parked on a couple of other federal payrolls before landing at FEMA in 2003. He's a hack. Get rid of him.

-- Brooks D. Altshuler, deputy chief of staff, is also a former presidential advance man. He's a hack. Get rid of him.

-- Scott R. Morris, former chief of staff now in a regional office in Florida. Mr. Morris marketed computer software and worked as a media strategist for both the Bush primary and general election campaigns. Also was a media consultant for Bob Dole's presidential campaign. He's a hack. Get rid of him.

Speaking of FEMA regional offices, I felt a little better after checking the ones affecting the Q-C. Region V, which includes Illinois, is directed by Edward G. Buikema, who put in 26 years with the Michigan State Police, including a stint as director of the Emergency Management Division. Region VII, which includes Iowa, is run by Dick Hainje, plucked from the South Dakota legislature and given the job. He at least has 24 years on the Sioux Falls Fire Department on his resume.

Regarding spending the money wisely: Homeland Security Director Michael Chertoff put the need succinctly: "We're going to cut through red tape, but we're not going to cut through laws and rules that govern ethics."

House Leader Nancy Pelosi wants to form a special commission, a la the 911 commission, to guard the money from looters in suits. They always -- always -- gather thick around, vultures drawn to the feast when they hear "no red tape." Mr. Bush should either support Ms. Pelosi's call, or find a Republican to offer something similar.

Regarding the re-examination of the Department of Homeland Security: It is a Republican, Senate Homeland Security Committee chair Susan Collins of Maine, who already has opened hearings into FEMA's failures. There are bills already introduced the strip FEMA out of DHS and to restore its status as a Cabinet-level department.

A great many senators who eventually voted to include FEMA with DHS did so reluctantly, expressing concern that the focus on natural disasters would be lost in the new department, directed as it was toward preventing terrorism. Their fears, in the event, prove well founded. Time to move to Plan B.

As these critical items are considered, I hope Mr. Bush is listening to the advice being dispensed by Newt Gingrich. For those who may not recall, it was Mr. Gingrich whose "Agenda for America" and bomb-throwing politics led Republicans to control of a House of Representatives lost in corruption and arrogance after decades of Democratic rule. Eventually hoisted on his own petard, he nevertheless deserves an audience.

His thought, in a nutshell: "We’re not in a values fight now but over whether the system is working. The issue is delivery."

Yes, and what we want delivered by Congress and the president is:

1. A hack-free FEMA.

2. Prudent spending of the billions of relief $$.

3. A Department of Homeland Security that works when we need it.

Up to Congress now.

Posted by jcb at September 14, 2005 02:30 PM


I heard Joe L. on NPR Tuesday morning. You might want to cut him some slack. He agreed that they rolled over on Brown in hearings to make him DEPUTY chief of FEMA. He said that underlings who have a presentable resume generally do get a pass. He said the problem was that when Brown was promoted to chief, there wasn?t a hearing because at that point FEMA was a part of Homeland and no hearing was required.

He said one thing the Senate learned is that nobody gets a pass just because they got shuffled around.

Posted by: Vita at September 15, 2005 09:47 AM

Your "Up to Congress now" quote is hilarious! I can only assume that you are not following the confirmation proceedings of Judge John Roberts. If you were, instead of "Up to Congress now", your comment would be 1) let's go back to when state legislatures elected Senators, and/or 2) let's have another stab at term limits.

I don't really know how to characterize your faith in the government---charming, uninformed, naive, liberal? I dunno. All the heroic stories I've seen concerning Katrina have been performed by private citizens and private enterprise. Government on all levels fell down because it isn't about action, it's about----lectures on sexual harrassment, and promoting other agendas.

I'm no big GWB supporter, but if he says tonight that the answer to big, bloated, ineffective bureaucracy is MORE big, bloated, ineffective bureaucracy, I will be forced to sign the petition for impeachment I saw on MoveOn.org!

Just sayin'

Posted by: paladin at September 15, 2005 12:52 PM

To paraphrase our buddy Don Rumsfeld: You don't seek help from the Congress you want; you seek help from the Congress you've got.

"What we got" is pretty scary, but it has, on various occasions over the last couple of hundred years, managed to rise above itself, when the need was great and greatly apparent, as it is at the moment.

Some right things getting started in Congress; people from both parties making sense here and there. I'm not going to assume the work's gonna stall unless it does.

And, of course, there's always the next election, after which we may be nearer the "Congress we want."

If Mr. Bush proposes a whole new bureaucracy tonight, I'm against it. But I do think I'm in for the 9/11-style outside commission the monitor the spending.

Posted by: jcb at September 15, 2005 01:35 PM

I'd like to agree with the "outside commission" bit. But remember that Jamie Gorlick (the primary architect of "The Wall") was part of the 9/11 Commission panel, who I assume was included to protect the interests of Clinton that couldn't be covered by Sandy Berger destroying documents.

I just don't believe that the 9/11 Commission is the shining example of "non-partisan".

I'd be all for an "independent" commission that included engineers, constitutional lawyers, those knowledgeable in logistics,and others who had no interest in politics. But to have a commission panel consisting of partisan hacks and asscoverers is counterproductive. I believe I saw a poll stating that the public didn't trust a 9/11 Commission to be non-political. Yeah, me neither.

Posted by: paladin at September 15, 2005 02:03 PM