In the aftermath of Katrina, it's clear that the Bush administration has modernized the wrong part of government. We're getting 21st century PR combined with 19th century patronage -- an ugly combination that represents a double step backward for the country.
For instance, it turns out that Michael Brown isn't the only unqualified political hack at FEMA. In fact, as the Washington Post and Knight Ridder report (via Josh Marshall and Kevin Drum), the leadership is dominated by cronies and hangers-on. Here's KR:
In 2000, 40 percent of the top FEMA jobs were held by career workers who rose through the ranks of the agency, including chief of staff. By 2004, that figure was down to less than 19 percent, and the deputy director/chief of staff job is held by a former TV anchor turned political operative...
Of the top 15 FEMA spots in Washington, the only people who had experience or have a single permanent job - some employees of FEMA are holding down two positions - are the agency's top lawyer, its equal rights director, its technology chief and its inner-agency planning chief. None of them is responsible for disaster response or preparations.
And here's the Post:
Five of eight top Federal Emergency Management Agency officials came to their posts with virtually no experience in handling disasters and now lead an agency whose ranks of seasoned crisis managers have thinned dramatically since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
FEMA's top three leaders -- Director Michael D. 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, according to the agency. Two other senior operational jobs are filled by a former Republican lieutenant governor of Nebraska and a U.S. Chamber of Commerce official who was once a political operative.
Meanwhile, as Laura Rozen notes via Brad DeLong, the Bush administration's PR-driven approach to crises is in full swing. Mark Pfeifle, a press operative who ran the White House Social Security "war room," has already been shifted to being a FEMA spokesperson to clean up the mess. Perhaps they need help over there diverting firefighters for photo-ops?
It would be very wrong, I believe, to let the ignominious Michael Brown be the scapegoat for FEMA's sins. Check out this front-pager from the WaPo. Turns out that a raft of FEMA's top leaders have little or no emergency management experience, but are instead politically well connected to the GOP and the White House. This is a scandal, a real scandal. How is it possible that four years after 9/11, the president treats a federal agency vital to homeland security as a patronage prize? The main reason I've been a Bush supporter all along is I trusted him (note past tense) on national security -- which, in the age of mass terrorism, means homeland security too. Call me naive, but it's a real blow to learn that political hacks have been running FEMA, of all agencies of the federal government! What if al-Qaeda had blown the New Orleans levees? How much worse would the crony-led FEMA's response have been? Would conservatives stand for any of this for one second if a Democrat were president? If this is what Republican government means, God help the poor GOP Congressmen up for re-election in 2006.
The Bush adminstration must pay a heavy price for failing to respond adequately to the disaster. All future governments must realize that patronage does not pay, especially when it comes to homeland security and disaster relief -- or we're all in big trouble.