Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Competency

Just when you think the current administration in Washington has reached it's highest level of incompetence, along comes a man like Michael Brown to prove you wrong. Now, do not get me wrong, I am not naive enough to think most Presidential appointments are based on one's competence in a particular area, although some most definitely are. However, if one is singularly unqualified for a position in this administration then they are a shoe in.

First and foremost is this administration's decision to cut the legs out from under FEMA and make it a part of Homeland Security. To become part of the umbrella agency of Homeland Security in and of itself might not have been such an unwise move if the agency had it's autonomy. But, to have had an agency, which was at one time a cabinet position, demoted to but one part of the behomoth that is the Homeland Security was pure folly.

Political appointments to government positions is, as I said, nothing new. However, generally those who are tapped for an appointment have had some modicum of experience in the area in which they will be serving. Not so with FEMA, where 5 out of the 8 top positions are filled by nothing but political hacks. Starting with Michael Brown, whose only claim to fame seems to have been the MIS- management of The American Arabian Horse Association (a position he was asked to resign) to Patrick Rhode the Chief of Staff, a former Television reporter and Brooks Altshuler, the Deputy Chief of Staff. who was a presidential advance man. The other two, David Maurstad, Nebraska's former Lt. Governor and Daniel Craig, a political fundraiser coordinator, and a member of the US Chamber of Commerce, hardly bring any emergency management expertise to their positions. These are the men that Bush had entrusted with our safety. On the job training it seems is the order of the day.

During the first hours of hurricane alert, when it was blatantly obvious that the Gulf Coast states of Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana would bear the brunt of Katrina, FEMA should, and normally would have been, poised to help with the evacuation of those states citizens. And, in light of the lack of sufficient National Guard troops in each state, FEMA's presence should have been all the more visible, a trust that, that government agency would perform the duties which it was created to do.

We have come to expect a level of competence and preparedness from our government, and yet, until there is a crisis of these proportions, we realize how misguided has been our trust. To expect that there will be competent people in charge should not be a cause for concern.

Now, it seems, t he reigning incompetents have sought a way to try and take the onus off of themselves and place blame on state and local authorities. However, it was on August 26th that Governor Kathleen Blanco, of Louisiana, declared a state of emergency when Katrina was only a Category 2 hurricane, and the other Gulf states asked for help from the Pentagon as well. When Katrina was upgraded to a Category 3, she then requested a Federal State of Emergency be issued, and Bush granted her request. With the Federal State of Emergency now in place, FEMA had the green light to mobilize and assess what needed to be done. And, In light of the lack of sufficient National Guard troops in each state, FEMA's presence should have been all the more visible

Ah, but then government is not as it should be these days. The Bush administration and the Republican controlled Congress, have slashed and burned their way through most of the programs which were set up to provide help so that situations such as these, the breaching of levees and the overflow of rivers and lakes, are less of a threat. Bush, in one of his more outlandish statements last week, said he did not think anyone anticipated that the levees would be breached. In point of fact, it was well known that a storm of this magnitude, or perhaps even one of lesser fury would wreak havoc in New Orleans. It was not a question of if it was a question of when.

Five years ago, a report about the flooding of New Orleans, and it's ultimate destruction, was the subject of a Time article. It outlined a Category 5 hurricane blowing out of the Gulf which in turn would cause Lake Pontchatrain to overflow, cut off escape routes and turn the waters into a toxic soup. And, 5 years ago, the same stumbling block to prevention was the price tag for safety, which was estimated to be perhaps as high as $14 billion.

The question now is, do we rebuild New Orleans, having seen first hand what can happen? If other countries have managed to deal successfully with these same sorts of below sea level safety issues then certainly we should be able to.

Provided we let someone competent run the show.

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