Monday, September 05, 2005

The Fall of F.E.M.A.

According to The New York Times, Bush advisor Karl Rove is behind the drive to deflect criticism over federal relief efforts in New Orleans. The story floated a few days ago was that relief was delayed because Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco had not declared a state of emergency. In fact, Blanco did declare a state of emergency four days before hurricane Katrina hit.

Yesterday, the New Orleans Times-Picayune called for George Bush, Junior to fire Michael Brown, the director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. On N.B.C.’s Meet the Press, Jefferson Parish president Aaron Broussard broke into tears as he described the death of a colleague’s mother waiting to be rescued:

The guy who runs this building I'm in, emergency management, he’s responsible for everything. His mother was trapped in St. Bernard nursing home and every day she called him and said, “Are you coming, son? Is somebody coming?” And he said, “Yeah, Mama, somebody’s coming to get you. Somebody’s coming to get you on Tuesday. Somebody’s coming to get you on Wednesday. Somebody’s coming to get you on Thursday. Somebody’s coming to get you on Friday.” And she drowned Friday night. She drowned Friday night.

The continuing horror in New Orleans, said Broussard, amounted to murder by bureaucracy; and he demanded a Congressional investigation.

Since being placed under the control of Homeland Security, F.E.M.A.’s ability to respond to disasters has been seriously undermined. In a letter to Congress last year, a 16-year veteran of F.E.M.A. wrote:

Over the past three-and-one-half years, FEMA has gone from being a model agency to being one where funds are being misspent, employee morale has fallen, and our nation’s emergency management capability is being eroded. Our professional staff are being systematically replaced by politically connected novices and contractors.

In 2004, Florida was hit by four hurricanes. The federal response was very good for a simple reason — elections were coming and Bush couldn’t afford to lose Florida. But there are no elections this year. Perhaps if Louisiana had simply waited until next year to be devastated by a hurricane, the outcome would have been different. Then again, given F.E.M.A.'s state of disarray, perhaps emergency response next year will be worse.