September 6, 2005

Fire Michael Brown Now

Like I said before, I don’t want to get too bent out of shape by the slow government response to the Hurricane Katrina disaster. It was, quite possibly, the worst natural disaster in our country’s history.

While a slow response may be forgivable, obstructionism is not. That’s exactly what FEMA did. FEMA obstructed relief. FEMA obstructed relief over and over again.

There are calls across the country and across the political spectrum for FEMA’s head Michael Brown to be fired. Add my voice to the growing chorus of many. Michael Brown needs to be fired, and he needs to be fired right now. I had never even heard of him until a couple of days ago, and I don’t ever want to hear about him again.

I hardly even know where to begin, so I’ll begin, more or less at random, with Jefferson Parish President Aaron Broussard speaking to Tim Russert:
We had Wal-Mart deliver three trucks of water, trailer trucks of water. FEMA turned them back. They said we didn't need them. This was a week ago. FEMA—we had 1,000 gallons of diesel fuel on a Coast Guard vessel docked in my parish. The Coast Guard said, “Come get the fuel right away.” When we got there with our trucks, they got a word. “FEMA says don't give you the fuel.” Yesterday—yesterday—FEMA comes in and cuts all of our emergency communication lines. They cut them without notice. Our sheriff, Harry Lee, goes back in, he reconnects the line. He posts armed guards on our line and says, “No one is getting near these lines.” Sheriff Harry Lee said that if America—American government would have responded like Wal-Mart has responded, we wouldn't be in this crisis.
Matt Welch found an article in the Salt-Lake City Tribune about Utah firefighters sent to the Gulf Coast not to fight fires but to do PR work for FEMA instead.
Many of the firefighters, assembled from Utah and throughout the United States by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, thought they were going to be deployed as emergency workers.

Instead, they have learned they are going to be community-relations officers for FEMA, shuffled throughout the Gulf Coast region to disseminate fliers and a phone number: 1-800-621-FEMA.

On Monday, some firefighters stuck in the staging area at the Sheraton peeled off their FEMA-issued shirts and stuffed them in backpacks, saying they refuse to represent the federal agency.
Here is what FEMA spokesperson Mary Hudnak had to say about that:
”I would go back and ask the firefighter to revisit his commitment to FEMA, to firefighting and to the citizens of this country.”
Even Trent Lott, who doesn’t exactly suffer from Bush Derangement Syndrome, has had it with FEMA.
Lott said he has been trying to get FEMA to send 20,000 trailers “sitting in Atlanta” to the Mississippi coast, and he urged President Bush during a meeting Monday to intervene. He said FEMA has refused to ship the trailers until contracts are secured. “FEMA and MEMA need to be saying, ‘Yes’ to Mississippi’s needs, not, ‘No.,” the former majority leader said in a written statement.
There's a lot more here. It just goes on and on and on and on and on. I’ve only barely scratched the surface. My own list isn’t by any means exhaustive. It’s just a mere tiny sample. If you find yourself unpersuaded or defensive on FEMA's behalf, follow the link and take it all in. The length of the list of FEMA’s obstructionist actions is staggering. Isolated events can be chalked up as all-too-human mistakes. A pattern that consists of dozens of instances is something else.

People were ready and willing to help while FEMA repeatedly, chronically, habitually, said no. Taken as a whole these failures read like something out of the Soviet Union, where fishing crews – for example – were forced to let entire catches spoil and rot because they didn't have specific orders from Moscow to send the fish to places where hungry people could eat them.

It wasn’t enough that FEMA repeatedly obstructed aid coming into the city. Michael Brown also went onto the air and blatantly lied about what he did and didn’t do.

The editorial board at the New Orleans Times-Picayune busted him:
In a nationally televised interview Thursday night, he said his agency hadn't known until that day that thousands of storm victims were stranded at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center. He gave another nationally televised interview the next morning and said, “We've provided food to the people at the Convention Center so that they've gotten at least one, if not two meals, every single day.” Lies don't get more bald-faced than that…
Lousiana voters can decide if the mayor of New Orleans and the governor of their state did a good enough job to deserve re-election or if they ought to be fired. Only Congress can fire George W. Bush, but he isn't eligible for re-election anyway.

But Michael Brown was never elected. He never will face an election. He can only be fired by the president. He needs to be fired. Now. He had no prior experience running an operation like FEMA, but he got the job anyway. Hey, he might have done a great job. His inexperience might not have been a problem at all. There was always a chance he would rise to the occasion. But he did not. Now that we know how he performs on the job, it’s time for him to go. One man’s ego and job security is not more important than disaster relief during emergencies. There will be more emergencies. There always are.

If the president looks hard to find the very best man or woman for the job, the odds that Michael Brown will end up being the one are at - if not somehow below - absolute zero.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at September 6, 2005 5:22 PM
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