HUD supervisors “may approve administrative leave, without loss of pay, for employees who have expressed a desire to help nonprofit charitable organizations, especially in the wake of Hurricane Katrina,” according to a HUD press release.
HUD employees will now be able to request administrative leave for an average of eight hours a month over a 12-month period. Employees must first seek advanced written approval from their supervisors and the volunteer activity must support not-for-profit efforts that are consistent with HUD’s own mission.
“This agreement speaks to how deeply committed the HUD family is when it comes to giving of themselves. So many of our employees are answering the call to volunteer during this time of great need and we want to do everything we can to encourage this spirit of giving,” said Bernardi.
“HUD employees are construction analysts, engineers and environmental officers. This policy will encourage our employees to donate even more of their time and skills towards the huge efforts that will be necessary to rebuild our communities over the next few months and years,” said Carolyn Federoff, president of AFGE Council 222.
Employees must satisfy one of the four following criteria to qualify for the leave policy:
* The volunteer activity will clearly enhance the professional development or skills of the employee in his/her current position
* The absence is brief and is determined to be in HUD’s interest
* The absence is sponsored and sanctioned by HUD
* The absence is directly related to HUD’s mission
“This is going to be a tremendous help,” said Tim Oravec, a HUD employee who works for HUD’s field office in Albany, N.Y. and also serves as a volunteer fire fighter in Knox, N.Y. “Up until now, I had to take annual leave to fight a fire.”
Proposed bill could bring pay parity to federal law officers
By Karen Rutzick
A bill making its way through Congress might be the best shot in a decade of getting pay equity for some federal law enforcement officers, American Federation of Government Employees officials said Tuesday.
The union, which represents thousands of law enforcement officers across agencies, said disparity in retirement benefits between officers who are recognized by law as being law enforcement officials and those who are not, most notably Customs and Border Protection officers, is "very substantial."
Under the law, employees deemed law enforcement officers can retire with just 20 years of service at age 50, as compared to standard federal employees who, at the earliest, must have 30 years of service and be 55 to retire.
Law enforcement officers also receive a higher annuity upon retirement. A law enforcement officer retiring at age 50 with 20 years of service and a $65,000 salary would receive $22,000 more annually in retirement benefits than a standard federal employee retiring under the Federal Employee Retirement System, according to AFGE.
But while the union has spent 10 years trying to get a bill passed to fix this inconsistency and has succeeded in getting multiple bills introduced with hundreds of co-sponsors - including one pending in Congress - none of those bills made it to a vote. New grumblings in Congress indicate that might change, AFGE officials said.
In July 2004, the Office of Personnel Management issued a report to Congress that argued for greater consistency among federal law enforcement officers' pay and benefits.
In response, the House Government Reform Committee is working on legislation with broad pay and classification reforms for law enforcement officers across the federal government, according to committee spokesman Drew Crockett. He said Reps. Tom Davis, R-Va. and Jon Porter, R-Nev., plan to introduce the bill later this year.
The bill will clarify the issue of who is considered a law enforcement officer, Crockett said.
On the Senate side, Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight of Government Management, the Federal Workforce and the District of Columbia, is working on similar legislation.
According to Marcie Ridgway, Voinovich's communications director, "The senator's bill will be looking for comprehensive federal law enforcement reform--classification, compensation and benefits." Ridgway said Voinovich believes the "overall revamping and updating of federal law enforcement classification pay and benefits [is] the next wave in winning the war on terror."
AFGE officials are hoping that by folding their issue into the broader bill, it will have more traction than past efforts. The possible legislation presents a "unique opportunity to enact a long sought-after goal," said AFGE lobbyist Eric Shulman.
Shulman said the issue finally has weight, in part, because of Voinovich's support. The creation of the Homeland Security Department, which includes the CBP and Immigration and Customs Enforcement bureaus, means that Congress now "recognizes that the employees of DHS are on the front line against terrorism."
Gage said he will meet with Porter, the chairman of the House Government Reform Subcommittee on the Federal Workforce and Agency Organization, and Voinovich this week to discuss the proposal. Gage sent letters to both congressmen last week expressing "strong interest" in the possible legislation. In the letters, Gage said he understood that outlines of the legislation will be available to AFGE within the next couple of weeks.
Officials from the National Treasury Employees Union, which also represents federal law enforcement officers, offered their strong support for classifying CBP officers and others as law enforcement officers. In a letter to Congress, NTEU President Colleen Kelley said, "CBP officers are the nation's first line of defense against terrorism and the smuggling of illegal drugs and contraband at our borders and in our ports," and she called for legal recognition.
Both unions said they were stepping up grassroots efforts to rally support for the impending legislation.
In August, the Congressional Budget Office released a study comparing the pay of federal and nonfederal law enforcement officers. It was compiled at the request of both the Senate and House committees that deal with federal workforce issues. CBO director Douglas Holtz-Eakin said the study comes "as lawmakers consider changes in the federal personnel system for law enforcement officers."
FEMA chief heeds calls to resign job
Bush names replacement during New Orleans tour
By ANN McFEATTERS
BLADE WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF
WASHINGTON — While touring hurricane-ravaged Mississippi and flooded New Orleans for a third time, President Bush yesterday accepted Michael Brown’s resignation as director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency and immediately tapped a national expert on fires to run the embattled agency.
R. David Paulison, who is U.S. fire administrator and director of emergency preparedness for FEMA and a former fire chief of Miami, will be acting director and acting undersecretary of the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees FEMA. He has more than 30 years as an emergency responder.
Mr. Brown’s resignation two weeks after the hurricane hit was not unexpected.
Michael Chertoff, secretary of Homeland Security, Friday signaled the administration’s unhappiness with Mr. Brown when he removed him from overseeing relief efforts in the wake of widespread criticism that the agency acted too slowly to rescue thousands of people from New Orleans.
There was palpable relief among Republicans on Capitol Hill and inside the administration that Mr. Brown was out. It was expressed with the hope that the White House will be able to undo the public-relations damage.
In a statement, Mr. Brown himself alluded to that scenario, saying that he had become a distraction and that his leaving was in the “best interest” of the President and of his agency. He said, “There is no other government agency that reaches people in a more direct way. It has been the best job in the world to help Americans in their darkest hours.”
Mr. Brown, who got the FEMA job in 2001 as a result of political ties to the administration, came under fire for his lack of hands-on experience in disaster relief and overstating his credentials on his resume. That led a chorus of Democrats to call for his ouster last week.
Mr. Bush, with Mr. Brown at his side, had indicated that he was satisfied with Mr. Brown’s performance, saying: “Brownie, you’re doing a heckuva job.”
But inside the administration, few believed that.
TV footage showed thousands of poor and black Americans stranded for days in New Orleans without food, water, or medical attention while queues of buses remained stationary outside the city. Mr. Brown said he did not know about the 20,000 evacuees at the convention center in New Orleans until 24 hours later.
Mr. Chertoff grew alarmed and told Mr. Bush that he was not satisfied with the way FEMA was performing. Mr. Bush sent Vice President Dick Cheney to the region, who confirmed that the criticism of FEMA and Mr. Brown was mounting.
Mr. Bush then told Mr. Chertoff to do what he had to do, and Mr. Chertoff named Thad Allen, vice admiral of the Coast Guard, to head up the federal response to Katrina.
Mr. Chertoff said in a statement last night that Mr. Brown had managed 160 disasters during his tenure at FEMA and that he “is a good man” who did everything he could to coordinate the disaster response to Katrina.
Sen. Trent Lott (R., Miss.), whose home was demolished in the hurricane, said everyone was overwhelmed by the scope of the disaster, which he estimates will cost at least $150 billion, and that criticism of Mr. Brown may have been unfair.
Nonetheless, he said that Mr. Brown was acting more like a private than a general, and that leadership had improved since Admiral Allen took over. Senate majority leader Bill Frist (R., Tenn.) also said he was impressed with the way Admiral Allen stepped into the job and immediately took charge without ruffling feathers at the local and state levels.
Democrats grumbled that Mr. Bush should have fired him rather than let him resign but said they were glad of the change.
House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California said Mr. Brown’s departure was long overdue.
The bipartisan leaders of the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, which oversees FEMA, agreed Mr. Brown had become a distraction.
The committee chairman, Sen. Susan Collins (R., Maine) said she hoped Mr. Brown’s stepping down will end the “continuing barrage” of questions about his credentials, his leadership ability, and decisions he made in preparation for and in response to Katrina and focus attention on the relief and recovery efforts.
The labor union that represents FEMA workers, the American Federation of Government Employees, said Mr. Brown’s resignation was appropriate but inadequate.
The union’s president, John Gage, said Mr. Brown’s departure “does nothing to restore the slashed funding for disaster mitigation that FEMA has suffered. It does not undo the damage done by the connected contractors who were used to push aside career FEMA employees, only to provide unusable studies and materials.”
Job approval sinks
As one result, Mr. Bush’s job approval rating sank to below 40 percent in various polls, the worst showing so far in his presidency. Critics say the slow federal response shows major problems not just in FEMA but also in the Department of Homeland Security and in White House budget requests.
On his third visit to the region, touring New Orleans and Gulfport, Miss., before returning to the White House yesterday afternoon, Mr. Bush said that “recovery is on the way” and progress is being made, although “a lot of serious and hard work” has yet to be done. He said relations among various levels of government have improved and that people “are beginning to think about … the long-term revival of New Orleans” and surrounding parishes.
He strenuously denied allegations that relief was delayed because so many of the victims were poor and black. “The storm didn’t discriminate, and neither will the recovery effort,” he said.
Mr. Bush said he knows there is a lot of second-guessing and said that there will be time for learning lessons and finding out what went wrong. But he complained that there is too much of a “blame game” going on, and he rejects that.
“My attitude is that we need to learn everything we possibly can. We need to make sure that this country is knitted up as well as it can be in order to deal with significant problems and disasters. Meantime, we got to keep moving forward,” he said.
He also dismissed charges that the 90,000 National Guard troops deployed in Iraq, including 11,000 from the affected region, contributed to the sluggish federal response.
“It is preposterous to claim that the engagement in Iraq meant there weren’t enough troops here, just pure and simple,” Mr. Bush said.
If Mr. Bush decides to nominate Mr. Paulison as permanent head of FEMA, he will have to be confirmed by the Senate.
He was confirmed previously to head the U.S. Fire Administration, now part of FEMA. Such hearings are certain to be passionate recriminations of what went wrong with relief efforts in the immediate aftermath of Katrina.
Public Employees: A Professional On-the-Ground Response to Hurricane Katrina
Sept. 13—While President George W. Bush’s hand-picked choice to run the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Michael Brown, was forced to resign Sept. 12 under mounting criticism of the agency’s lack of response and performance to Hurricane Katrina, thousands of dedicated FEMA workers on the ground have been tireless in their efforts to bring help to the hurricane survivors.
“The dedicated workers of FEMA should be commended for their valiant effort in the wake of Hurricane Katrina to save lives, rescue the stranded and minimize suffering,” says AFGE President John Gage.
“In light of projections that a direct hit by a hurricane on New Orleans would be on an unprecedented scale, these experienced workers were never granted the authority to ensure that our national response would be sufficient enough and employed with all necessary speed in order to minimize casualties. Those at FEMA and other federal agencies who have such authority failed our nation,” says Gage.
Many of the senior FEMA officials appointed by the president lacked experience and background in disaster response and emergency preparedness prior to joining the agency, according to news reports. In contrast, FEMA career employees have responded over the years to hurricanes, earthquakes and even the Oklahoma City bombing terrorist attack.
In June 2004, AFGE Local 4060, which represents employees at FEMA headquarters, sent a letter to Congress raising concerns about a degraded capability at FEMA to prepare for and respond to catastrophic events. The letter also pointed out that management positions were being filled by contract employees and other agency outsiders with little or no disaster experience over seasoned, qualified FEMA workers.
Mossback: Making Sense of Disaster
by Knute Berger
This week, Mike Brown, the George W. Bush crony who headed the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and bungled the Katrina disaster response, has finally resigned. In the wake of that move, however, I have a confession to make: I, too, was a disaster know-nothing for FEMA.
Shortly after the 9/11 attacks, I joined FEMA as a member of their reserve cadre of part-time disaster workers. Much like the Army Reserve, we disaster workers were on call in the event of a hurricane, flood, or terrorist attack. To join, there were a couple of requirements: You had to be able to drop everything and be deployed at a moment's notice, and you had to have skills FEMA would need when the shit hit the fan. As a result, the cadre was filled with citizen disaster workers who were often self-employed or retired, people who could fly off at a moment's notice to Florida or American Samoa. They included accountants, tech support people, ex–law enforcement officers, and, like me at the time, former media people.
It might surprise people to know that FEMA's use of citizen helpers is by design. A part-time corps of disaster workers is essential because no sane taxpayer would pay for a full-time FEMA staffed to the size needed for a once-a-century, worst-case disaster. So the militia approach makes sense. It also means they sometimes throw inexperienced people into the breach.
In my case, I was trained to help handle the public information duties in a disaster field office, everything from writing press releases to documenting our disaster work. Cadre members went through at least a week's training, and we were paid decent wages, though not enough to make a living since you might only work a few weeks or months a year. When deployed, we were official federal employees with government credit cards and FEMA windbreakers, worn everywhere except in places like Montana, where folks worry about the agency's black helicopters aiding a United Nations invasion from Canada.
I have written previously about my stint in the Region X FEMA bunker in Bothell during a homeland security alert in 2001 (see Mossback, "Googling in the Bunker," Aug. 4, 2004). It turned out to be an essentially low-risk—for me and FEMA—training exercise. But it might have been otherwise. Had there been a major terrorist attack on the West Coast, as threatened, I would have found myself deeply in over my head—a mini–Mike Brown. Fortunately, that terrorism threat turned out to be bogus. I was mightily relieved that I didn't harm the nation, or anyone else.
That was partly because my supervisors were experienced disaster pros and knew better than to put me in a position to fail. During the nine months I was in the cadre, I was twice deployed in the field. Both times were to work in disaster field offices after the worst was over. In the aftermath of spring floods in Alaska and a windstorm in Oregon, I helped push some of the piles of paper that accompany a federal disaster and enable assistance to flow to victims. It's as unglamorous as it gets, but it's government at its best: providing real, tangible aid to people who—a few inevitable fraudsters aside—really need it. Like an iceberg, 90 percent of disaster work isn't on CNN. It's too dull even for C-SPAN.
In my stint with FEMA, I got a look inside our country's disaster recovery machine. Watching Katrina, I have seen both the FEMA I knew and the FEMA I don't know.
FEMA's man on the ground in Louisiana, Bill Lokey, is from our area and is one of the most experienced disaster pros in the business, a veteran of 9/11, Oklahoma City, Pacific typhoons, and winters in Antarctica. He was in charge of FEMA's disaster work here following the 2001 Nisqually earthquake, and I served under him briefly in Alaska. He seems like exactly the kind of steady, experienced guy you'd want in this situation.
On the other hand, over the past couple of years, former FEMA employees and disaster professionals have been warning that the agency is being gutted and marginalized within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), not merely employing amateurs but being run by them. Much of this criticism is exactly right.
The leadership problem is especially evident if you read the National Response Plan—the 2004 disaster blueprint drawn up by DHS. It used to be that federal disasters could only be declared after the fact when it was clear that the scope of the disaster had outstripped the abilities of the state authorities to cope with it. When that happened, FEMA could ride in like the cavalry, though always a step or two behind the event.
In the post-9/11 world, however, DHS's plans envision a scenario exactly like Katrina: a pending disaster of such overwhelming scope that federal response will need to be full mobilized proactively— in advance—and managed by DHS and the White House. Declaring Katrina an incident of national significance before the fact would likely have saved time and lives. Instead, the declaration wasn't made until two days after landfall.
Why that happened hasn't been fully explained. Perhaps Bush and DHS head Michael Chertoff were hesitant to pull the trigger, fearing the mistake President Gerald Ford made with the infamous swine flu epidemic that never happened, ordering a cure (inoculations) that took more lives than the disease. Or perhaps they wrongly and negligently expected that a Brownie-run FEMA could handle any storm. I suspect that part of the answer is that Bush and Chertoff were caught in transition between doing things the old way and the new. They froze in Katrina's headlights and discovered how unforgiving disasters can be.
An Administration in Blame-Shifting Mode
Tuesday, September 13, 2005
By Molly Ivins
George W. Bush has come up with his worst idea since he decided to have the military investigate torture by the military at Abu Ghraib prison. He, George W. personally, plans to investigate to “find out what went right and what went wrong” in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
It’s hard to guess where Bush will look first, but maybe he should start with the appointment of “Brownie” to head FEMA, the federal disaster relief agency. “Brownie” is Michael Brown, who was appointed by some president.
At the time, Brownie was deputy director of the agency under Joe Allbaugh - because he was Joe Allbaugh’s college roommate, you see, and Allbaugh was Bush’s campaign manager in 2000, you see, which made both of them qualified to manage disasters.
The FEMA press release announcing Brownie’s appointment started with his other obvious qualification, “From 1991 to 2001, Brown was the commissioner of the International Arabian Horse Association.” It’s unclear whether “Brownie” was fired or resigned from the organization in the wake of financial mismanagement and lawsuits.
Hours after Hurricane Katrina made landfall, Brown wrote his boss, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, to ask permission to send 1,000 FEMA employees to the scene to support rescuers and to “convey a positive image” about the government’s response. Brownie said he expected the workers to be there two days later. This apparently inspired Bush’s comment, “Brownie, you’re doing a heckuva job.”
Brownie is ably assisted by two top aides, one a former Bush campaign advanceman and the other a former Bush campaign public relations guy.
FEMA was once considered one of our better federal agencies (those in the government-is-the-enemy camp may not believe this, but some government agencies are actually known for effective performance.) Exactly why the right-wing Republicans chose to make FEMA a political football was never clear - unless you subscribe to the theory that they particularly dislike any government agency that helps people, since that makes government popular and they are bent on making government unpopular.
At any rate, going back to the Reagan administration, conservatives have been hacking away at FEMA - they mostly just under-funded it, one of their favorite tactics, unless a hurricane hit Florida just before an election. Sorry to sound boringly partisan, but that is the record, and the Clinton administration did work hard at rebuilding the agency.
So now those on the liberal side are saying: “See, that’s what happens when you starve government in order to give rich folks tax cuts. Government agencies can’t do the jobs they were set up to do.”
Silly liberals see this as vindication that they have been right all along. But the Bush administration officials are in full blame-shifting mode: First, they announced repeatedly they don’t want to “play the blame game.” Then, they start blaming everybody else.
According to The New York Times, Karl Rove and Dan Bartlett, White House communications director, began a campaign this weekend to blame local and state officials. The “woefully inadequate response,” said “sources close to the White House,” was the fault of “bureaucratic obstacles from state and local officials.”
The bottom line is they’re playing the race card. As many of you have noted, it IS a racial issue that poor people suffer most in any natural or economic disaster. Because Katrina hit the Deep South, a great many of the poor people affected are black, especially in New Orleans - both hit hardest and majority black to begin with.
I’m not sure what to say about a cable news station that plays a “loop” of black looters over and over - about 20 seconds of actual footage, replayed for four minutes, while the voiceover dwells on the looting problem. Obviously, there are some looters in New Orleans and elsewhere, and equally obviously, there are lots of people who were without food or water for days.
The exhausted and desperate black mayor of New Orleans begged for help in an interview late last week. “They’re feeding the public a line of bull and they’re spinning, and people are dying down here,” Mayor Ray Nagin said, talking about the feds. “It’s politics, man, and they are playing games. … They’re out there spinning for the cameras. … I don’t want to see anybody do any more goddamned press conferences. … Excuse my French, everybody in America, but I am pissed. …
“Don’t tell me 40,000 people are coming here! They’re not here! It’s too doggone late. Now get off your asses and do something, and let’s fix the biggest goddamned crisis in the history of this country. People are dying.”
The mayor was in tears. I heard two nice, white American “ladies” deploring this interview. “Well! He should remember there might be children listening!” Children still without food and water. What happens to people when they talk about race? Of course, most of us don’t actually talk about race any more, we refer to it only indirectly, we talk “those people.”
Watch carefully, listen carefully - minority groups have always been blamed after natural disasters, since the days when the Hungarians were supposed to have cut the fingers off bodies to get the gold rings in the wake of the Johnstown Flood. Dirty Bohunks.
From Capitol Hill Blue
Homeland Security Workers Suffer From Low Morale
By Staff and Wire Reports
Sep 14, 2005, 00:19
Workers at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, under fire for its slow response to Hurricane Katrina, have among the least rewarding jobs in the federal government, a study released on Wednesday showed.
In a survey of 150,000 workers at 30 federal agencies on their job satisfaction, Homeland Security ranked second to last, just ahead of the Small Business Administration.
Homeland Security's Federal Emergency Management Agency has been heavily criticized for its slow response to Hurricane Katrina and FEMA director Michael Brown resigned on Monday after being removed from the relief effort in the region.
According to the study, effective leadership twinned with meaningful work had the most impact on employee morale.
The Office of Personnel Management collected data on employee satisfaction in ten categories. The information was then analyzed by the Partnership for Public Service and American University's Institute for the Study of Public Policy Implementation.
Max Stier, president of the Partnership for Public Service, admitted Homeland Security's performance was not encouraging but said it was not a surprise given that parts of 22 agencies were "cobbled together" to create the department in 2003.
"It is typical of when you see large-scale merger and change operations, whether it is the private sector or the public sector, it has a very large impact on employee morale," Stier said.
"There is a lot of work to do to make sure that DHS has the kind of engaged employee that will enable it to better meet the challenges that it will undoubtedly face going forward."
The White House Office of Management and Budget was rated the best agency to work for and its management celebrated the achievement.
"Engaging employees and holding managers accountable for results is critical to our success and we look forward to bringing these successful strategies to more federal agencies," Clay Johnson, OMB's deputy director for management, said in a statement.
The survey showed that employees at three out of four federal agencies were more committed to their jobs and more satisfied than two years ago.
Other top-ranked departments included the National Science Foundation, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the Government Accountability Office and the Securities and Exchange Commission.
The bottom five rungs on the ladder were taken up by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., the National Archives and Records Administration, the Office of Personnel Management, Education Department, Homeland Security and Small Business.