Before Scott Morris went to work for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, he helped get George W. Bush elected president.
In his 22-month tenure with FEMA, Morris has been the deputy chief of staff -- the agency's third-highest position -- and since May, he has served as director of FEMA's Long-Term Recovery Office for Florida.
But much like his former direct supervisor, Michael Brown, Morris' resume shows no emergency management experience.
That inexperience -- and the fact that Morris remains in a key administrative FEMA position -- is cause for concern among some of Florida's Democratic congressional leaders, who say that once Hurricane Katrina's immediate recovery issues are addressed, investigating FEMA's staffing will be their most urgent priority.
"FEMA is not a place where you should be putting political hacks," said Eric Johnson, chief of staff for U.S. Rep. Robert Wexler, D-Boca Raton. "It's just not a place to put people who have done TV commercials."
Among the work experience Morris cites on his FEMA biography are stints as a media strategist for Maverick Media on the 2000 Bush-Cheney presidential campaign, assisting the executive director of the Republican National Committee and serving as marketing director "for the world's leading provider of e-business applications software in California."
Morris did not return calls seeking comment, but FEMA public information officers responded on his behalf.
Frances Marine, public affairs director for the Long-Term Recovery Office in Orlando, said Morris is surrounded by FEMA workers with vast technical expertise and experience in disaster response.
Morris' role, she said, is to guide the agency's partnership with state and local officials.
"One huge component of long-term recovery is communication, and that is Scott's background," she said.
Morris was praised by local and state Republicans, including Escambia County Administrator George Touart -- a frequent FEMA critic -- and Craig Fugate, Florida's director of emergency management.
"Don't touch him and don't screw him up," Fugate said in a telephone interview arranged by Morris' staff. "Anyone who does will have my undying vengeance."
Morris' "pedigree," Fugate said, does not matter when compared to his on-the-job efforts to respond to hurricanes Dennis and Katrina and his involvement in resolving the funding reimbursement and debris issues that hamstrung Florida counties after the 2004 hurricanes.
"I will challenge anyone to prove me wrong that Scott Morris is not an emergency manager," Fugate said.
U.S. Rep. Mark Foley, R-Palm Beach, calls Morris "a breath of fresh air" who listened to the concerns that Florida officials raised after the 2004 hurricanes.
Based on Morris' work, "I don't see a problem with his political pedigree," Foley said.
The congressman added, however, that he wants a thorough congressional review of FEMA's operation and administrative staffing.
Wexler, meanwhile, is "extremely concerned and disturbed" that remaining top FEMA officials, like Morris, have used their affiliations with Bush presidential campaigns to land jobs for which they don't appear to be qualified, Johnson said.
Brown's resignation, which came earlier this week amid criticism of his slow response to Katrina, may correct only part of the problem, Johnson said.
"If he leaves under him an entire system of political hacks who came in with him, then I don't know that the system has changed all that much," Johnson said.
Morris is not the only high-ranking FEMA administrator without disaster response experience.
Acting deputy director Patrick Rhode, appointed to FEMA by Bush in 2003, is a former deputy director of advance operations for the Bush campaign. Acting chief of staff Brooks Altshuler also is a former Bush advance man.
The American Federation of Government Employees, the union that represents FEMA workers, warned Congress last year that FEMA was not prepared for a disaster, partly because of the political patronage afflicting the agency.
Even with Brown's resignation, that remains a concern, said Charlie Bernhardt, a labor relations specialist for the federation.
The union is pressing members of Congress for continued review of FEMA's administration and is calling for a bipartisan committee to investigate the agency's response to Katrina.
Bernhardt pointed out that is not uncommon for political backers to earn high-ranking jobs in a new administration.
"In some agencies you can get away with it. But FEMA is an organization that when the unexpected happens that agency has got to react immediately," Bernhardt said. "That requires skills and expertise that the people whose job it is to get 'Candidate X' elected may not have."
U.S. Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Chumuckla, said he has not worked directly with Morris but has found his Orlando office responsive to his inquiries.
Morris' position with long-term recovery is not a first-responder position, "so an emergency management background is not necessarily a requisite," Miller said.
Touart praised Morris for cutting through layers of red tape -- particularly the FEMA reimbursement process for debris cleanup -- that delayed recovery and pushed some Florida counties and cities into financial crisis.
"Scott Morris has been good for us," Touart said. "He came here with the ability to report directly to Michael Brown and to make on-the-ground decisions, and so far that has worked."
Some of the FEMA problems that first surfaced last year have continued to plague other areas of Florida, said Bryan Gulley, a spokesman for U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Melbourne.
Nelson's office has continued to spar with FEMA and Morris' office about reimbursement for generators and other hurricane supplies bought for Hurricane Dennis preparation. The office also is fighting FEMA decisions to deny individual assistance in Broward and Dade counties, where Katrina caused extensive flooding and other damage.
"There's a number of issues that we continue to battle FEMA on," Gulley said. "It's evident that they have not improved."
President OKs list; shipyard is safe
KITTERY, Maine — As expected, President Bush on Thursday accepted the recommendations of the Base Realignment and Closure Commission, which include keeping the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard open.
Bush has long maintained he would accept the commission's findings to avoid any appearance of political influence on the process. His deadline was Sept. 23 to accept the entire report in full from the BRAC Commission or send it back for further changes
The commission on Aug. 24 voted 7-1 to remove the shipyard from the list because it found the Defense Department had "substantially deviated" from its own criteria in recommending the base for closure. In total, the commission voted to close 33 major bases and realign 29 others to save a total of $4.2 billion.
In addition to Portsmouth, the commission voted to keep open the submarine base in Groton, Conn., and Air Force bases in South Dakota and New Mexico.
Congress now has 45 days to either accept or reject the whole list.
U.S. Rep. Jeb Bradley, R-N.H., said Thursday that he believes there will not been any changes to the base closure list.
"Obviously, that's the next-to-last hurdle the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard needs to get through. We were always optimistic that the president was going to accept it," he said. "There may be an effort among some of my colleagues in Congress to try and reject the recommendations of the BRAC Commission at this point. I think that's very unlikely to gain much traction."
Bradley added that when he tried to amend the Defense Department appropriations bill to delay BRAC, he was only able to muster 120 votes. He said it there would probably be fewer members of Congress opting to make changes now that some facilities have been removed from the list.
Congress had authorized this round of closures only after the White House threatened to veto the entire defense bill if it did not go ahead with the process.
Lawmakers have never rejected the reports before. A GOP-led effort in the Senate to stop the process has fizzled.
Now that this BRAC round is almost complete, Bradley said the focus will be on making sure the shipyard continues to thrive.
"The role now of the delegation is to direct as much work to the yard as possible," he said.
The Navy has in essence admitted that the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard is the best in terms of cost-effectiveness, performance and returning submarines to active duty.
"There's no reason why the shipyard shouldn't get its fair share or more of the work," he said.
Bradley said he personally believes it will "pretty unlikely" to see another BRAC round in the next 5-10 years and noted that the BRAC Commission recommended as such.
John Joyal, 2nd Vice President of the American Federation of Government Employees, said the news about Bush accepting the report is "fantastic."
"He said he would and he did. I'm kind of surprised. I'm happy," he said.
Joyal said he is optimistic the shipyard's future is safe.
"The writing on the wall looks like we'll be in the clear, but I don't have a crystal ball," he said.
Joyal said he is looking foward to the shipyard possibly getting more projects than just Los Angeles-class submarines.
"If we can work on the most complex machines in the world and do the work that we do. I fee that this shipyard could do just about anything," he said.
This includes working on Coast Guard cutters or Trident submarines, Joyal said.
"I think you're going to see a lot more work come our way," he said. "I think they're brighter days ahead for the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard."
"Hopefully, we'll have other things on the horizon, the sooner the better, we already have the best work force in the country as far as the public shipyards are concerned. Give them more work," he added.
Provision to lift VA competitive sourcing ban survives
By Amelia Gruber
An initial attempt at stripping a Senate health care bill of language that would allow the Veterans Affairs Department to resume competitive sourcing studies failed narrowly on Thursday.
During a markup of the 2005 Veterans Health Care Act (S. 1182), the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee by a 7-7 vote rejected a union-backed amendment that would have eliminated the provision from the bill. The vote fell mainly along party lines, with Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., providing the only Republican support.
The health care bill will now make its way to the Senate floor. Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, chairman of the committee, said in a statement that he hopes to "move forward quickly and get [the legislation] passed by the Senate before the end of this year."
VA could save as much as $1.3 billion over five years by conducting public-private job competitions, Craig stated. The department has been unable to run contests since April 2003, when the VA general counsel found that a 1981 statute bars the Veterans Health Administration from comparing the cost of outsourcing to that of keeping work in-house unless Congress provides funding.
Department officials are pursuing business process reengineering, where managers look for ways to make the current workforce more efficient, as an alternative to competitive sourcing. Such studies cost less than public-private competitions and do not put VA employees out of work, said Marilyn Park, a lobbyist for the American Federation of Government Employees.
The money that VA would spend hiring consultants to help with competitive sourcing studies should be going toward health care and other veterans services, Park said.
"Recent damage caused by Hurricane Katrina to VA facilities, combined with severe budget shortfalls on top of rising health care costs, make it more and more difficult for the VA to provide veterans with access to medical care," said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash. Murray said she would vote against the entire health care bill if it contained language allowing competitive sourcing to resume at VA.
But in a statement supporting the language, Chris Jahn, president of the Contract Services Association, an industry group, argued that public-private job competitions would save VA money that could then be "used to provide better care for our veterans."
Craig made a similar case. "In this time of tight budgets, we need to harness the phenomenal efficiencies of the free market and get better health care results at the same time," he stated.
Park said she was heartened to see that some of the committee's Republicans voting in favor of the bill still expressed concerns about competitive sourcing costs. AFGE is working to make senators aware of "what [the language] will mean for taxpayers and veterans in terms of both health care and jobs" in case the bill comes up for a vote later this fall, she said.
There is not yet a companion bill in the House.
Federal Workers' Health Insurance Premiums To Rise Average of 6.6% Next Year, OPM Says
Health insurance premiums for federal employees and retirees enrolled in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program will rise by an average of 6.6% in 2006, the lowest rate of increase in nine years, the Office of Personnel Management announced on Thursday, the Washington Post reports. In 2006, federal employees with family coverage on average will contribute $12.79 more toward premiums biweekly -- a 10.9% increase -- for a total of $130.17 biweekly. The federal government on average will contribute $16.83 more toward premiums biweekly for employees with family coverage -- a 5.8% increase -- for a total of $306.82 biweekly. Federal employees with single coverage on average will contribute $5.30 more toward premiums biweekly -- a 10.1% increase -- for a total of $57.66 biweekly. The federal government on average will contribute $7.71 more toward premiums biweekly for employees with single coverage -- a 6.1% increase -- for a total of $134.98 biweekly. According to OPM officials, federal employees will have 279 plans to select from in 2006, compared with 249 this year (Lee, Washington Post, 9/16). OPM officials said that health insurance premiums for federal employees will increase by 2.5% to 15% based on the health plan they select, adding that "an increasing number of enrollees have switched coverage and chosen lower-cost plans," the Post reports (Barr, Washington Post, 9/16).
According to OPM Director Linda Springer, the office is "maintaining a high-quality health care program that provides excellent benefits at a reasonable cost" (Lee, Washington Post, 9/16). Springer said that federal employees in 2006 will experience smaller increases in health insurance premium rates than average workers in the private sector and that FEHBP is comparable to other large health plans. In addition, Springer said that the growth of prescription drug costs appears to have decreased and that the demographics of FEHBP appear to have stabilized. However, Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii) called the increases in health insurance premiums for federal employees in 2006 "disconcerting" and said that he will ask the Government Accountability Office to review the formula that FEHBP uses to establish rates (Barr, Washington Post, 9/16). One official from a federal employee union called the increases in health insurance premiums for federal employees in 2006 "outrageous" because rates for workers rose more than rates for the federal government. Enid Doggett, a spokesperson for the American Federation of Government Employees, said, "Federal workers are once again being shortchanged" (Lee, Washington Post, 9/16).
Minuteman Project Expands to Northern Border
By Rick Docksai
September 16, 2005
(CNSNews.com) - The Minuteman Project, which a group of citizens launched last April in Arizona to protect the border against the infiltration of illegal aliens from Mexico, is expanding on Oct. 1.
Minuteman volunteers will add the rest of the Mexican border and eight states along the Canadian border to their patrolling responsibilities. The group not only hopes to spot and report illegal immigrants trying to sneak into the U.S. It will ratchet up the pressure on politicians to take action against illegal immigration and picket/advertise against businesses who hire illegal immigrants.
Leaders of the Minuteman Project reportedly want to patrol the Canadian border in order to guard against terrorists, drug smugglers, and other criminal elements that they fear might try to slip across.
Telephone calls seeking comment from a representative of the Minuteman Project for this article were not returned. However, statements on the group's website attempt to defuse any criticism that the Minuteman Project espouses vigilante tactics in protecting the U.S. border.
"The Minuteman Project is not a call to arms," a website statement declares, "but a call to voices seeking a peaceful and respectable resolve to the chaotic neglect by members of our local, state and federal governments charged with applying U.S. immigration law."
The group claims it was formed as a result of "our government failing to do its most basic duty: protecting each state in the Union against invasion."
T J Bonner, president of the National Border Patrol Council, credited the Minutemen with raising awareness of a problem that he said too many people overlook. "The key help that the Minuteman movement gives us is focusing public attention on the security of our borders and the difficult job that we have in maintaining it," Bonner said. "It's not necessarily doing the Border Patrol's job or even spotting illegals for them."
Bonner said he shares the desire for better security along America's borders. "Illegal immigrants are everywhere. And in many cases they're taking jobs that Americans would like to have."
He also blamed illegal aliens for eventually causing lower wages for unskilled labor jobs. "There are plenty of Americans who want their jobs. It's just most people can't afford those jobs anymore. When the jobs paid 18 dollars an hour, there was no shortage of people willing to take those jobs," Bonner said.
However, protecting the nation against terrorism should be a more pressing concern than jobs, Bonner said. "For every person we catch, two or three slip by us," he said. "When it's that easy for a regular person to slip across the border, think about how easy it is for someone who's very well trained and very well financed."
The border patrol "rank and file as a rule are very appreciative of the work the Minuteman Project [does to bring] attention to the job we do," Bonner added. At the same time, he said there is a large element of danger to which the Minutemen need to pay attention.
"We don't encourage people to go down there to patrol because it's very dangerous work. There are drug dealers and criminals they are facing. Our agents get shot at all the time, and so what's to stop them from getting shot at too?"
Some civil rights groups worry that the mission statement and activities of the Minuteman Project attract individuals who are prone to vigilantism or racism.
"Part of the problem is not that they are necessarily doing something wrong," said Robert Deposada, president of the Latino Coalition, a Hispanic immigrant advocacy group. "It's that they're opening the doors for some extremists or wackos to join the group and to carry out wrong things in their name."
Deposada, however, agreed with the premise that the federal government should do more to prevent illegal border crossings "so that groups like these (Minutemen) are not necessary."
The Minuteman Project has won some support in Washington, D.C. U.S. Rep. John Culberson (R-Texas) introduced a bill in the House last month to train civilian volunteers to help patrol the borders. They would resemble current Minuteman volunteer outfits, but would have the added benefit of federal training and certification.
Tony Essalih, deputy chief of staff for Culberson, said the congressman "sees the Minuteman Project volunteers as patriots" but added "the fact that the Minuteman Project exists is testament to the failure of the federal government to adequately protect our borders."
Essalih said Culberson also wants the government to pay more attention to the northern border. "He's very concerned because it has been long neglected, and it shouldn't be. Just the same as with the Mexican border, it's the primary threat."
The legislation introduced by Culberson now has close to 50 cosponsors, which Essalih said "shows that there is a critical mass of support for this in the House."
James Gilcrist and Chris Simcox founded the Minuteman Project on April 1 of this year. That day, they and 857 volunteers began a 30-day patrol of a 23-mile stretch of the Arizona-Mexico border near Tombstone. Membership now numbers slightly more than 1,000.
New Personnel Management For Civil Workforce At Ft. Bliss
Over the past year the Department of Defense has been working on what they're calling the National Security Personnel System, also known as NSPS.
The new system will affect several hundred thousand civilian service employees under the DoD.
According to DoD representative, Joann Robertson, the NSPS creates a more contemporary system that meets the needs of today's workforce.
"[It] will be based primarily upon what we call a pay performance system and will have a pay banding system going away with our GS greater structure and moving into broad flexible pay bands,"
"The department is basically saying that the current management structure and the individuals in those positions, who manage now, who have all the flexibility within the law to do what's in the best interest of the mission, that those same managers that cannot manage, under a new system they're going to do a better job," said Charles Royal, who disagrees with the changes being implemented.
The new system will change hiring procedures, consolidate position classifications, change the way workers are compensated for their work and pay workers depending on performance instead of seniority.
"It will enable us to attract retain employees and be able to compete better with the private sector in getting and then attracting the brightest and best in the federal government," said Robertson.
Some workers agree the current system needs to be changed, but don't agree with what the DoD is doing.
"You know poor performers, none performers are protected and that needs to change, the speed at which we need to hire people and change based on the needs the nation has that's also obstructionist," said Luz Torres, who works at William Beaumont Army Medical Center.
Gulf Coast Disaster Botched by Top FEMA Officials Who Lacked the One Thing Their Jobs Required; Emergency Management Experience
By Steve DiJoseph
One of the saddest aspects of the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina has been the failure of those in charge to respond appropriately before, during, and after the disaster.
While blame can be assigned to the local, state, and federal responses, the failures attributable to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) have been the most shocking and, by far, the most inexcusable.
For this giant federal agency, charged specifically with managing disasters, to have so utterly failed to have done just that stands as one of monumental government breakdowns in U.S. history.
Even more disturbing is the fact that veteran workers at FEMA had repeatedly warned their superiors of the potential scale of the storm and the magnitude of the possible damage it could inflict on the vulnerable city of New Orleans.
Despite the ominous and often frantic warnings, the top management at FEMA including its then director, Michael Brown, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, and other Bush administration appointees, did not treat the situation as a calamity in the making.
Three days before Hurricane Katrina hit eastern Louisiana, Leo Bosner, a 26-year FEMA employee, issued a serious warning to his superiors. “We told these fellows that there was a killer hurricane heading right toward New Orleans," Bosner told CNN. "We had done our job, but they didn't do theirs."
His alert stated, " New Orleans is of particular concern because much of that city lies below sea level. If the hurricane winds blow from a certain direction, there are dire predictions of what may happen in the city."
The results of the stalling and mismanagement by officials were obvious to television viewers all over the world, as Katrina’s victims struggled, suffered, and needlessly perished in the floodwaters, huddled on rooftops, at the Convention Center, and at the Superdome.
But seasoned FEMA employees say that the staggering inadequacies of the federal response were no surprise given its new bureaucratic set-up following the September 11, 2001 terror attacks, when FEMA, along with 22 other federal agencies, was grouped into the Department of Homeland Security.
Michael Brown, previously the commissioner of the International Arabian Horse Association, with negligible emergency management experience, at best, began working for FEMA in 2001.
(Brown’s resume has been shown to have overstated his emergency management experience.) He was legal counsel to Joe Allbaugh, then chief of FEMA, who was also Bush’s campaign manager in 2000.
Allbaugh, however, did a commendable job following 9/11 with respect to coordinating and managing the relief efforts in New York and Washington DC. When Allbaugh left FEMA in 2003, Brown was elevated to director.
But Brown was not the only person in a top position who lacked sufficient credentials for a job with such awesome responsibilities. According to a report in the Washington Post, five of the eight top FEMA officials had no crisis management experience.
The top three FEMA officials were linked to the Bush’s 2000 presidential campaign, the newspaper reported.
Chertoff, the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, was previously an appellate court judge and federal prosecutor. He was working from home when Bosner sent his initial warnings about the storm.
Chertoff has also been criticized for his slow action on the eve of the hurricane coming ashore. While the national disaster plan states that Homeland Security is responsible for responding to disasters like Hurricane Katrina, Chertoff waited until the day after the hurricane struck to write a memo deferring to the White House and delegating authority to Brown.
The belated and disorganized federal response to the disaster caused nationwide indignation and shocked a worldwide audience. Victims, as well as observers here and abroad, watched the horror unfold right in front of them or on their TV screens.
Messages of outrage from the Mayor of the city of New Orleans, the Governor of Louisiana, and numerous Senators and Congressmen flooded the White House.
The House and the Senate immediately called for probes examining the delayed response by FEMA and the government. Officials are urging serious reforms within the agency.
Former President Bill Clinton, whose administration played a large role in the structuring of FEMA, told CNN, "Clearly, the FEMA response was slow and there are lots of reasons that I think that happened. I believe that there should be some reorganization there."
A national group of state disaster officials, as well as Clinton, say that emergency management credentials should be a requirement for the heads of FEMA.
The National Emergency Management Association, a non-profit group of state directors of emergency services agrees. The Association also posits that instead of answering to the Secretary for Homeland Security, the FEMA’s director should answer to the President directly.
Perhaps a revamping of the agency could put FEMA and its veteran employees in a better position to take immediate and decisive action when future disasters strike.
Bosner believes so. In a memo he wrote in 1992 that helped lead to FEMA’s reorganization during the Clinton administration, Bosner wrote, "FEMA's biggest problem is that too few people in the agency are trained to help in emergencies," he wrote. "We have good soldiers but crummy generals."
According to Bosner, FEMA improved under the Clinton administration. Since 2001, however, seasoned disaster experts have left the agency.
James Lee Witt, who ran FEMA from 1993 to 2001, has been hired by the Governor of Louisiana to assist the state in its recovery efforts. He said he will stay as long as he as needed. “He will sit at the table for me, and he will be my voice at the table,” Governor Kathleen Blanco said.
Louisiana officials are getting stretched too thin and need help, she said. “I like to hire the smartest people in the country,” she added.
Witt has more than 25 years of disaster management experience. He was appointed to head FEMA in 1993, after President Clinton took office.
FEMA had been strongly criticized in 1992 for its slow response to Hurricanes Andrew and Hugo; after Witt took over, it won praise for its vigorous reaction to Midwest floods and the 1994 Northridge earthquake in Los Angeles.
It seems that type of aggressive and decisive emergency management is no longer present and must be recaptured if FEMA is to have any credibility with the American people who it so badly let down before and after Katrina struck.
A disturbing view from inside FEMA
Worker: Decision-makers lack disaster experience
Programming note: Watch CNN TV all weekend to help identify and reunite children displaced by Hurricane Katrina with their families.
(CNN) -- As Hurricane Katrina bore down on the Gulf Coast three weeks ago, veteran workers at the Federal Emergency Management Agency braced for an epic disaster.
But their bosses, political appointees with almost no emergency management experience, didn't seem to share the sense of urgency, a FEMA veteran said.
"We told these fellows that there was a killer hurricane heading right toward New Orleans," Leo Bosner, a 26-year FEMA employee and union leader told CNN. "We had done our job, but they didn't do theirs."( Watch video of the whistleblower)
Bosner's storm warning came early Saturday, three days before Hurricane Katrina came ashore in eastern Louisiana.
"New Orleans is of particular concern because much of that city lies below sea level," he warned in his daily alert to Homeland Security secretary Michael Chertoff, then-FEMA chief Michael Brown and other Bush administration officials.
"If the hurricane winds blow from a certain direction, there are dire predictions of what may happen in the city," it said. FEMA's tepid response while Katrina's victims grew desperate, suffered and died has been acknowledged and widely criticized.
The agency's failure is a tragic element of the Hurricane Katrina story. But, according to Bosner, FEMA's troubles came as no surprise after its role and stature shifted when federal agencies were reshuffled in response to the September 11, 2001 terror attacks.
A longtime union leader, Bosner has been a whistle-blower before. This time, he says, colleagues are quietly thanking him for speaking out.
A year ago he raised concerns that Brown was in over his head. Brown stepped down earlier this month after he was removed from leading the government's Katrina relief effort. After resigning, he criticized local officials in an interview with The New York Times, saying the White House wasn't at fault.
"I have nothing personal against Mike Brown," Bosner told CNN. "I feel badly about the guy. But he took a job he was never trained for. The man was a lawyer."
FEMA, formerly an independent agency led by a Cabinet-level official, was among the 22 federal agencies shuffled into the Department of Homeland Security. Brown was an undersecretary who answered to the secretary of Homeland Security.
Before joining the Bush administration in 2001, Brown had spent a decade as the stewards and judges commissioner of the International Arabian Horse Association.
The Washington Post reported earlier this month that the top three FEMA officials had ties to Bush's 2000 presidential election campaign. Five of eight top FEMA officials had no crisis management experience, the newspaper said.
Chertoff and Brown have legal backgrounds but scant emergency management experience.
Brown came to work for FEMA in 2001 as legal counsel to his college friend, then-FEMA director Joe Allbaugh, who was Bush's 2000 campaign manager. Brown assumed the top job when Allbaugh left FEMA in 2003.
Chertoff is a former federal prosecutor and appellate court judge. As a prosecutor, he was involved in developing legal strategies for dealing with terrorism following the September 11 attacks. He was appointed Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security in February by a 98-0 Senate vote.
Chertoff worked from home the day Bosner first warned of the hurricane's catastrophic potential for New Orleans, CNN's Tom Foreman reported. Chertoff also has been criticized for writing a memo the day after Katrina struck, delegating authority to Brown and deferring to the White House rather than taking charge.
Chertoff has not commented, but a spokesperson for the Department of Homeland Security said he was in touch with Brown the weekend Katrina approached New Orleans.
The homeland security spokesperson also defended the memo, saying it merely put in writing procedures already in place. But the national disaster plan states that Homeland Security is in charge of the response to disasters like Katrina.
Clamoring for reform
Committees in the House and Senate are looking into FEMA and the government's flawed response, and officials are clamoring for reform. Former President Bill Clinton, who revamped FEMA during his administration, is among them. (Watch video of Clinton on FEMA )
"Clearly, the FEMA response was slow and there are lots of reasons that I think that happened," Clinton told CNN on Friday. "I believe that there should be some reorganization there."
Clinton, and a national group of state disaster officials, say anyone who heads FEMA should be required to have emergency management credentials. Clinton added that the FEMA chief should answer to the president.
"It's sort of the standard thing," Clinton said, "but when an emergency strikes, that person becomes the most important person in the federal government."
The National Emergency Management Association, a non-profit association of state directors of emergency services, also lists crisis management qualifications as a must for the next FEMA head. In a posting on its Web site, it also called for the the FEMA chief to answer directly to the president ,rather than to the secretary of Homeland Security.
Bosner agrees. He wrote a memo in 1992 that raised red flags about FEMA and helped lead to reform during the Clinton administration.
"FEMA's biggest problem is that too few people in the agency are trained to help in emergencies," he wrote. "We have good soldiers but crummy generals."
For the rest of the 1990s, FEMA improved, Bosner said. But since 2001 the agency has again become demoralized and experienced disaster experts have left.
"At FEMA ... we have actually slid backwards," he said.
Tip of the Hat
September 16, 2005
Another Piece of the Puzzle Snaps into Place
We've been tipping our hat a lot this week, but there has been quite a bit of good journalism coming out of Hurricane Katrina and its ramifications, so here's one more bow, this time to NPR.
Whistleblowers are a journalist's lifeblood, providing a reporter -- and the public -- with crucial inside information that would otherwise remain buried. Much of the time these sources remain anonymous, but as the Washington Post recently discovered when one of its anonymous sources in the White House was caught lying to it, you sometimes have to take what these sources say with a grain of salt. So it stands to reason that it's considered the best of all possible journalistic worlds when a source willing to be named will step forth with on-the-record transcriptions -- even at the risk of their own career.
Such a source came to NPR this morning, in the form of one Leo Bosner, an emergency management specialist at FEMA, who is in charge of the group that alerts FEMA's higher-ups to potential crises situations and manages the response. A clearly exasperated Bosner spoke candidly with NPR reporter Laura Sullivan about the agency's lame and late response to hurricane Katrina. Bosner, who's been with FEMA since 1979, recounts how he sent daily e-mails, called National Situation Updates, to Homeland Security secretary Michael Chertoff and FEMA's Michael Brown in the days before Katrina hit; each one warned of the storm's growing strength and the potential danger it posed to New Orleans - and each one seemed to be roundly ignored.
Bosner accuses FEMA -- his employer -- of failing to call for the mobilization of the National Guard or to assure that evacuation buses were at the ready. As Sullivan puts it, he recounts how "he and his colleagues at FEMA's D.C. headquarters were shocked by the lack of response" by FEMA in particular and the federal government in general -- not just throughout the weekend before Katrina hit, but even on Monday, August 29, the day all hell began to break loose in New Orleans. In the NPR interview, Bosner takes us through the weekend at FEMA's headquarters, charting the confusion and disbelief among his co-workers as situation update after situation update was ignored. The telling updates sent to Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff and FEMA chief Michael Brown make for chilling reading and, thankfully, NPR links to four of them, beginning with one written on Friday, August 26. One early update reports of readings from buoys at sea of waves 46 feet high forming as Katrina bore down on the Gulf coast. The email from the day before the levees broke in New Orleans ominously predicts that "[s]ome levees in the greater New Orleans area could be overtopped."
We wrote yesterday that, thanks to some intrepid journalism, several pieces of the larger puzzle of this story are beginning to come together. Now Bosner, courtesy of NPR, brings us not just another piece of the puzzle, but an encouraging indication that at least some people on the inside, shocked by the inability of the government to respond to its own red alerts, are willing to talk.
Bosner, if not the first, is one of the first. Thanks to him, we now know what it was like to have been inside the frustratingly ineffectual FEMA offices during a critical time, yelling through a digital bullhorn at deaf ears in the executive suites.