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September 09, 2005

Some Thoughts on FEMA

Over at the Corner, Rod Dreher says this and this.

I really don't know what to say. The cronyism can't be excused. I'll hold the administration responsible, but put in context, I don't expect much more from any politician. Speaking to Rick's main concern, Christian or not, the President is in charge of a bureaucracy. I don't care who is in charge ,bureaucracies always have problems. I've got to believe that we can develop ways of dealing with disasters without giving the federal government more power.

Speaking to Rick's concerns about conservatives being out of touch, well, despite this recent surge of Dobson-esque conservatism, conservatives have always aimed to stand athwart history. We yell stop, remember? If that phrase is foreign to any of our readers, then read nothing political that isn't named National Review. There are ways to help disaster relief without subverting the Constitution and setting precedent that will surely be abused in future years. The President did the right thing, and the blame game can wait.

And the truth of it all is that until the clean up is over, there's no sense in dishing out blame. We'll have plenty of time to do that. No matter how inept FEMA may (or may not) have been, it's important for any friend of the President to realize that Democrats in Congress, liberal activists and their media allies who will use any tragedy (natural or otherwise) to attack the President. If blame is to be assigned, let's find the culprits quietly and quickly. Let's have their heads and be done with it, but do it in a clean manner that doesn't shoot the GOP in the foot next fall.

Sound callous? I don't intend for it to be, but I also want to ensure that while justice is done, the Democrats don't find themselves back in power in 2006 and 2008. Nor do I want the Constitution unravelled to suit sketchy public opinion.

Posted by Matt at September 9, 2005 07:15 PM

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The President did the right thing, and the blame game can wait.

How? How did he do the right thing? Was he doing the right thing when he told "Brownie" he was doing a great job? Was the right thing remaining on vacation? Was the right thing flying out to San Diego. Was the right thing waiting so long? And perhaps more importantly, when? When did he do the right thing? Don't you think he started doing the right thing far too late?

If blame is to be assigned, let's find the culprits quietly and quickly. Let's have their heads and be done with it, but do it in a clean manner that doesn't shoot the GOP in the foot next fall.

Sound callous? I don't intend for it to be, but I also want to ensure that while justice is done, the Democrats don't find themselves back in power in 2006 and 2008. Nor do I want the Constitution unravelled to suit sketchy public opinion.

Why is partisanship more important than the people who suffered and more important that the people who died--some from dehydration? It apparently is, and that, right there, tells me it is evil, and I mean that in the Biblical sense.

Look, everyone was at fault here. The City should have ensured the bus lines ran past Saturday afternoon. In an urban setting, lots of people don't have cars. The State surely could have handled it's end better, as well. Once the levees gave though, the city and state were victims too, not rescuers.

I never want to see that many Americans suffer again for so long, while my government sits on its hands.

Posted by: Cindy at September 9, 2005 08:38 PM

Your reaction is based solely on the suffering of others, but it doesn't seem to have any regard for fact. Your government did NOT sit on its hands. The federal government was moving by Tuesday afternoon, which, by the way, was the time everyone realize what was going on. The President simply can NOT mobilize National Gaurd, nor can FEMA.

The President cut his vacation short. Being in Washington is symbolism and nothing else. He may have said Brown was doing a good job, but Brown isn't in charge anymore, is he?

The President waited so long? For what? What did he wait on? What did he wait to do? This is rhetoric is bordering on irrational.

Posted by: Matt at September 9, 2005 10:35 PM

Matt, FEMA and everyone else who knew anything about NOLA knew that a major hurricane striking the city would absolutely destroy it. For you to say that federal government was "moving by Tuesday afternoon" is really a tragic statement given everything that many many many people knew about what would happen from the storm. In fact you offer the proof of the federal government's failure.

BTW: On Saturday, FEMA prepositioned loads of supplies and personnel from Texas to Florida. That is standard procedure. Unfortunately, FEMA knew that this hurricane was ANYTHING but standard. That's the biggest failure here.

Posted by: xrsgg at September 9, 2005 11:02 PM

I'll concede Brown's head. Have it and mount it for all I care. He should have done better. Beyond that, what was FEMA supposed to do? Were they supposed to evacuate the city? Or were they supposed to just have supplies sitting in NOLA. That's a grand idea. A nasty city with a horrendous crime rate and we'll just unload tons of goods. No problems there, right?

The storm hit late Sunday night and the air wasn't clear until Tuesday afternoon. Given the broken levees, what was the government supposed to have done?

Posted by: Matt at September 9, 2005 11:22 PM

In advance of the storm, FEMA could have warned Chertoff, who should have alerted Bush, that this was "the Big One" and that he had better start putting plans in place for a catastrophic event of Biblical proportions. According to Brown, a major hurricane strike on NOLA was a Worst Case Scenario for disaster respones. If that was the case (and it was), Chertoff, Bush, even freakin' Kofi Annan should have known about this on Friday.

Brown, Chertoff, and Bush, at even a whiff of faltering from Nagin or Blanco should have given orders to active duty troops throughout the region to start packing up and the president should have been consulting regularly with Landrieu, Ritter and the entire LA/MS congretional delegations to make certain that the local officials understood the gravity of their situation and had the resources to respond properly. Again, FEMA's prepositioning of supplies and manpower seemed "standard." Again, this was no standard hurricane.

Clearly Brown and Chertoff should have immediately known how grave the situation was (given all of FEMA's pre-Katrina planning for a Cat V on NOLA - they DID know the gravity of the situation) and they should have done backflips making sure the nation and the President understood what was about to happen.

Those were the failures before and during the storm.

On Tuesday, the President should have demanded that the Governor decide right then and there which plan that he presented she would go with. For him to accept a request for 24 hours given the situation on the ground, levees breaking, all hell breaking loose, etc., is unnacptable. As Nagin said - people died because she delayed. The President should have demanded it and Honore should have been on the ground on Tuesday by lunch as he and his troops apparently were ready willing and able pending the order.

Posted by: xrsgg at September 10, 2005 12:04 AM

"Nor do I want the Constitution unravelled to suit sketchy public opinion."

What makes you think I want to unravel the Constitution? I'm talking an amendment if necessary. In my previous posts, I say that the President does not currently have the power that I think he should have to intervene. I thought readers would infer that I meant "Constitutional" power. Obviously you disagree with me. No problem. But let's not mischaracterize my position. ;-)

Posted by: Rick Brady at September 10, 2005 02:49 AM

Rick - sorry about the confusion. That one point wasn't addressed to you specifically, not by any means. Just a general point, more directed to the media and the lefties.

Posted by: Matt at September 10, 2005 03:35 AM

The blame game isn't a game. It's not political opportunism. Hundreds of thousands of people have suffered and continue to do so, despite Barbara Bush's callous remarks to the contrary. Our largest port city, responsible for an enormous amount of U.S. commerce, has been destroyed. People are upset for good reason. Lack of accountability is a pattern in this administration. Bush was warned of the likelihood of an attack like 9/11 by the NSC and was not held accountable. Nor was he held accountable for the failure to find WMD in Iraq. Finally, he - and admittedly others at the state and local levels - were warned of the likelihood that NO would be flooded and hundreds of thousands of Americans would become refugees. Failure to be held accountable has led to one disaster after another.

There should be accountability ASAP. Why should anyone wait for that? Who knows when the next disaster might strike? The hurricane season is far from over. Maybe you think partisan defense of the president supercedes accountability, but most people want the same cronyism that has run rampant in FEMA since 2000 to be extirpated by the time of the next national disaster. Brown is just one of many high level officials in the federal government (not restricted to FEMA) who got his job because of his loyalty to Bush or connections to Bush's cronies, not because he had any prior expertise related to the government job to which he was appointed.

As to what the president could have done, well, it would have helped if he had cared enough to investigate his options instead of flying around the country for photo-ops in the wake of a major hurricane. Both he and his FEMA chief learned about the 25000 people trapped in the convention center from a story in the newspaper on Thursday. That demonstrates both a colossal negligence and a failure of leadership. Your defense of these actions undermines the competence we should demand of our government.

Posted by: dem at September 10, 2005 12:12 PM

You repeatedly argue that people should focus on helping the victims instead of assigning blame for the government's failure to assist Gulf Coast citizens in a time of crisis. Now President Bush has suspended a law requiring employers in the region to pay local construction workers the prevailing wage for federally financed projects. Perhaps you could explain how increasing corporate profits at the expense of people left destitute in the aftermath of a domestic disaster bigger than any in my lifetime is consistent with "compassionate conservatism". Is this a way for the President "to help disaster relief without subverting the Constitution", as you say it? Is this recent action consistent with your argument that "The President did the right thing"? Here is the link:

Posted by: dem at September 11, 2005 01:28 PM

dem, as to our not holding the feds feet to the fire, you've apparently missed some of our posts to that effect (here, here, here, here, and here) where we've expressed or highlighted criticism of the actions of the feds (although see here for some perspective). Your fixation on the feds is a blame "game". You give an ever-so-tiny nod that "admittedly" state and local governments might possibly, sort of, have a little bit of a burden to bear in this, but you save your biggest blaming to those furthest from the problem.

Posted by: Doug Payton at September 12, 2005 12:49 PM

dem, as an affordable housing advocate and city planner, I can tell you that the Davis Bacon Act (prevailing wage) has been the single most destructive piece of legislation in the past 30 years when it comes to neighborhood revitalization and low-income housing construction.

There simply aren't enough Davis-Bacon certified companies around to conduct all the work that is required. Federal subsidies to affordable housing projects in Riverside County have come to a standstill because there isn't a single D/B certified company in the County and therefore other companies would have to ship employees from San Diego, San Bernardino, LA, or Orange counties to job sites each day - so they don't bother to bid.

Suspending the act is necessary to attract the range of companies required to get devastated areas reconstructed. Unless, of course, you want rebuilding to take a real real long time while companies go through the D/B certification process... Lame...

Posted by: Rick at September 12, 2005 06:44 PM

Let me address Rick’s points first. You (and the President) want to keep pay low. To me this seems exploitive of the many people who have lost everything except their lives. You argue that an obstacle to low-cost housing in San Diego is the number of Davis-Bacon-certified companies. But that is not the argument the GOP is making about why DB needs to be suspended for reconstruction of the Gulf Coast. The argument from the GOP is that low labor costs favor rebuilding and cost taxpayers less money. Only that doesn’t really apply here. Many of the contracts for rebuilding the Gulf Coast have no set limit, so labor costs shouldn't deter a construction company from working there. Furthermore, many of the contracts have been awarded without competitive bidding. Thus, the Bush administration was engaging it cronyism, not considerations of cost-efficiency or employment, when it cut the legs out from under working people by suspending the Davis-Bacon Act. This argument is supported by studies showing that in places without prevailing wage laws, “construction is often more expensive because contractors have more cost overruns, more mistakes, more shoddy work, and more workplace injuries.”

In summary, it seems to me (and a lot of other folks) that if Halliburton gets to make as much as it wants, and run up excess charges due to inefficiency, some of its profits should be redirected to the people doing the labor, especially in this case because they need it the most. To quote another: “I can think of no viable argument for paying workers less then standard wages while the CEOs get whatever they deem fit for themselves.”

Doug, when I started out by saying “You repeatedly argue…”, I was referring to Matt, whose post I was commenting on. I realize that many of the bloggers who run SCO have indeed “expressed or highlighted criticism of the actions of the feds”. We disagree over how much responsibility to assign the President, but that is to be expected. We seem to agree that failures occurred at multiple levels of the government. However, I think it is difficult for us to say how exactly specific individuals at the state and local levels failed the people of NO. Pointing out unused buses doesn’t prove much to me, and some of the arguments made at your last "here" link have been refuted elsewhere. I agree that the local and state governments should have had a better plan for evacuation. It is shameful that they did not, although I can’t imagine how its implementation could have been foolproof. With the feds, including Bush, the situation is much more clear. Bush should be held to the standard of someone who campaigned for office with the message that he would keep us safe. He is the most powerful man on the planet and he didn’t take charge when he could have made a big difference. Today was the first time I saw Bush take responsibility for mistakes his administration has made. I applaud him for having the strength of character to do so. I hope his words are translated into even greater actions. Accountability is important; it necessarily sets high standards of performance from which everybody benefits. And it makes it more likely that our government will be prepared to help its citizens when another disaster befalls the country.

I apologize if it seems as if I am frustrated with bloggers at SCO when the subject of my ire is the federal government and its negligence. I agree with another recent left-leaning poster. I admire you guys (and ladies) for your convictions. I usually argue with you because I don’t understand why your convictions lead you in certain directions.

Posted by: dem at September 13, 2005 10:45 PM

Personally, I don't know enough about Davis-Beacon, but a good history of it and a discussion about it can be found here.

NO had a specific evacuation plan, which included using rapid transit and school buses. It wasn't implemented. Yet you don't think that proves much. Instead, Bush, in his Superman outfit, should've swooped out of the sky within 4 hours of the passing of the hurricane and made everything better. You're right about us going in different directions given the same set of facts. Given this solid fact, and many others like it, both city and state related, I don't see how you can be upset with FEMA, which "advertises" 72-hour reponse time after a disaster, and simply suggest NO couldn't have been "foolproof" when they failed to implement their own plan.

I'd also suggest you're really pulling punches where Democrats are involved. Krauthammer's list of responsibilities was the most non-partisan list I've seen, and it came from a conservative. To be perfectly honest, I'm still waiting for liberals to step up to the plate on this. I'm glad my breath has not been held during this time.

You're ambivalent about local responsiblity while very heavy on federal responsibility. That is the biggest difference between conservatives and liberals. First responders should be local, but Dems look first to the President. That's the entitlement & dependence culture, and it doesn't serve the people very well at all.

Posted by: Doug Payton at September 14, 2005 01:09 PM

More on the bus issue:

Had there been a futures market on buses in New Orleans, the value of the buses would have skyrocketed as Katrina approached, signaling their increased utility in the emergency. But even without such an overt market signal, any private owner of the vehicles would have exhausted all opportunities to save his or her property. Nobody who owned such a potentially valuable product would have done what New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin did: let it all go to waste on the assumption that drivers would be impossible to find. Greyhound, after all, did not leave hundreds of its buses to be destroyed. And, of course, this very fact caused Nagin to scream for "every doggone Greyhound bus line in the country" to come to the aid of his city. And it should go without saying that no private employer would long tolerate a workforce that, in Sen. Mary Landrieu's memorable description of New Orleans public sector workers, has trouble coming to work even on sunny days.

Posted by: Doug Payton at September 14, 2005 03:43 PM