Thursday, May 18, 2006

Ending FEMA

Money quote of the week:

In reference to FEMA plans to put cameras into disaster zones for live feeds back to headquarters -

"If CNN and Fox can do this, we should be able to do it." - David Paulison, acting FEMA director.

Really? Ya think?

Though I love that qualifying "should" - as in "but perhaps not"? - so heartening.

Anyway, after much study and many hearings, after deeply examining and analyzing all the things that went wrong with FEMA's response to Katrina and its aftermath, some members of the Senate have come up with their fix - doing away with FEMA altogether and replacing it. Considering how much hell I've given FEMA on this blog, you might be surprised to learn that I think this is a really bad idea.

The dismantling of a government agency and replacement of it with another (intended to do the exact same job) is an incredibly time-consuming and costly process. Considering on one hand our record-breaking deficits and continuing tax cuts, not to mention spendy little things like wars, we simply can't afford it. More importantly, hurricane season is two weeks away (and if you don't think that has me all kinds of paranoid and jumpy in a PTSD-way, you haven't been paying attention). Not that I think anyone is suggesting we do it now, but if they really wanted to replace FEMA, they should have done it sooner. Like it or not, FEMA has to get us through this next season, and after that, the inherent resistance to change all bureaucracies have will take over and it will never happen.

But furthermore, let's be realistic here - replacing FEMA with the Super Agency to Deal With Really Bad Things or whatever it would be called is going to add up to firing a bunch of career government people, along with all the bureaucracy and money that involves, only to turn around and re-hire most of them, just issuing them different stationary. If you think I'm just being cynical, remember what the Department of Homeland Security's first big announcement was after spending millions of dollars and months on reorganizing: "Here's our logo!" Followed shortly by the vague and useless terror color code alert and recommendations to stock up on duct tape. X-raying airplane baggage and screening shipping containers? Not so much - that would be hard, you can almost hear them whine.

Also, keep in mind who would head up this fabulous new disaster agency - yet another Bush appointee, and we all know how wonderfully those have worked out in the past.

Simply put, replacing FEMA with something else is just standard bureaucracy "let's rename it and shuffle the organization chart to fix the problem" crap. Sure, it beats the Bush administration's usual "Problem? What problem?" approach, reluctantly replaced with the "Pointing out problems is supporting terrorism" fall back position when problems can no longer be denied, but it doesn't actually fix the problem.

Under the Clinton administration, FEMA went from an ineffectual and expensive boondoggle rife with cronyism where big campaign donors were to sent to suck from the public trough to a model of government efficiency, effectiveness, and reform. It doesn't surprise me that FEMA returned to its bad old ways under George II, but it doesn't have to be that way.

The lesson here - renaming FEMA isn't going to fix it. To do that, we have to elect a smart, competent President that appoints experienced, capable professionals to head up essential agencies rather than viewing them as highly paid positions to reward campaign contributors. Alternately, we could elect Senators that take their review and consent powers seriously rather than rubber-stamping anyone their boss nominates.

Otherwise, all we get is Michael Brown by another name.


dangerblond said...

I remember when Clinton was president, there were right-wing conspiracy theorists all over the internets who were saying that FEMA was the leading edge of the one-world government that was soon to be touching down all over America in black helicopters and taking our guns. Back when Brownie was doing such a great job, I remember thinking, "where is this slick outfit with the black helicopters that I heard so much about?" This is typical of what's been going on with Bush's people - change the name, get a new logo, put up the "Mission Accomplished" banner and make a speech so we can get back to building the Great Wall of the Mexican Border.

jewrkngstif said...

Fema wasn't "All that and a bag of chips" under Clinton either. Just ask the people of Florida how long it took Fema to get 'on the ground' after the hurricains a couple of years before Bush II.

I get really tired of the 'Feds are here to bail me out of my ignorance attitude that seems to be prevelant these days.

but yeah...I wonder where those helos are too...:)