Saturday, September 10, 2005

Katrina Incompetence Starts at the Top
Katrina Incompetence Starts at the Top

Michael Brown, nominated by President Bush in 2003 to be the director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), has been roundly criticized for his inept handling of Hurricane Katrina. As the latest issue of Time magazine reports, it turns out there’s a reason for his incompetence: Brown has no professional experience in emergency management and has repeatedly lied about his professional background. As millions of people try to recover from the bungled hurricane efforts, Americans have a right to know how the Bush administration stocked FEMA with such blatantly unqualified and dishonest leaders.

* Prior to heading FEMA, Michael Brown’s only emergency management experience was as a supposed “assistant city manager” – a title that we now know he concocted out of thin air. Brown's official government biography says he served as "as an assistant city manager with emergency services oversight." But Time Magazine contacted Claudia Deakins, head of public relations for the city of Edmond and got the real story. Deakins revealed that Brown "was an 'assistant to the city manager' from 1977 to 1980—not a manager himself—and had no authority over other employees. ‘The assistant is more like an intern,' she told Time. 'Department heads did not report to him.'" Brown completely fabricated his only supposed emergency response experience.

* The Bush administration filled FEMA with clearly unqualified political appointees. The Washington Post also reports that "Five of eight top Federal Emergency Management Agency officials came to their posts with virtually no experience in handling disasters." The top three officials—Brown, Chief of Staff Patrick J. Rhode and Deputy Chief of Staff Brooks D. Altshuler—"arrived with ties to President Bush's 2000 campaign or to the White House advance operation." The appointments of such clearly unqualified leaders hastened the exit of experienced career officials who could have provided necessary knowledge and planning to execute large scale response efforts.

* The failures with Katrina are part of a much larger pattern of mismanagement and poor judgment by the Bush administration. The devastation of Katrina and the disastrous response should not surprise anyone given the administration’s illustrious track record of mismanagement and poor leadership. From homeland security failures prior to 9/11 and the debacle in Iraq to record budget deficits and soaring energy prices, our nation’s conservative leaders have proven time and again that they are incapable of properly running the country. The Bush administration could start correcting its mismanagement by firing Brown and putting some professional experience back in FEMA.