Hat tip to Kevin Drum, FEMA Then And Now
Kevin links to a story on Bush's mismanagement of FEMA that ran in the Independent Weekly last September: Disaster In The Making
Kevin Drum's summary:
There's much, much more in this deeply reported story. Read the whole thing to get a sickening sense of the disastrous effect that the Bush administration's glorification of conservative ideology over managerial competence has had on FEMA's workforce, its morale, and its ability to get things done.
This article has a terrific history of the creation of FEMA by Jimmy Carter and its bi-partisan development under Reagan, Bush 41 and Bill Clinton. Then Shrub decided he had a better idea.
Among emergency specialists, "mitigation" -- the measures taken in advance to minimize the damage caused by natural disasters -- is a crucial part of the strategy to save lives and cut recovery costs.
But since 2001, key federal disaster mitigation programs, developed over many years, have been slashed and tossed aside. FEMA's Project Impact, a model mitigation program created by the Clinton administration, has been canceled outright.
....[In 2001], President Bush appointed a close aide, Joe Allbaugh, to be the agency's new director....The White House quickly launched a government-wide effort to privatize public services, including key elements of disaster management. Bush's first budget director, Mitch Daniels, spelled out the philosophy in remarks at an April 2001 conference: "The general idea -- that the business of government is not to provide services, but to make sure that they are provided -- seems self-evident to me," he said.
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."
In June, Pleasant Mann, a 16-year FEMA veteran who heads the agency's government employee union, wrote members of Congress to warn of the agency's decay. "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," he wrote. "Our professional staff are being systematically replaced by politically connected novices and contractors."
The push for privatization wasn't the only change that raised red flags at FEMA. As a 2004 article in the Journal of Homeland Security and Emergency Management would later note, "Allbaugh brought about several internal, though questionably effective, reorganizations of FEMA. The Bush-Allbaugh FEMA diminished the Clinton administration's organizational emphasis on disaster mitigation."
In case Congress hasn't gotten the message, former FEMA director James Lee Witt recently restated it in strong terms. "I am extremely concerned that the ability of our nation to prepare for and respond to disasters has been sharply eroded," he testified at a March 24, 2004, hearing on Capitol Hill. "I hear from emergency managers, local and state leaders, and first responders nearly every day that the FEMA they knew and worked well with has now disappeared. In fact one state emergency manager told me, 'It is like a stake has been driven into the heart of emergency management.'"
This is a long, comprehensive article that is well worth the read.