He says that his colleagues in Washington had informed top administrators of the growing threat, but sat helpless as they waited for direction from FEMA leadership, especially Director Michael Brown.
“We had reported this information up to Mr. Brown and the rest,” says the source. “We were waiting for action, and the action just didn't come.”
In fact, the staff gave those warnings to FEMA heads two full days before the hurricane hit. Local union president Leo Bosner says that was plenty of time for the government to react.
“We all knew this ahead of time,” Bosner says. “We were expecting to see some massive effort from the White House to do something. In my view, they did have a window of opportunity, the President had a window of opportunity of maybe about two days, to move quickly, and get, and get things moving on this.”
Now, Bosner blames director Brown and other top administrators, who he says don't have emergency management experience. In fact, the union was so upset about changes at FEMA it sent a letter, obtained by CBS 5 Investigates, to members of Congress over a year ago.
"Professional staff are being systematically replaced by politically-connected novices and contractors," reads the letter. “It's been by people who clearly had political connections and just don't have any kind of idea what they're doing.”
Bosner says that in the middle of the emergency, top officials are worrying about public relations, asking him and other headquarters employees to call rescuers on the scene to get statistics for Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff’s new conferences.
“The field people are out there trying to do live rescues and trying to save people,” Bosner says. “I'm not gonna call a field operations person down there in New Orleans who's trying to save lives and say, ‘stop what you're doing and get some numbers for me because Secretary Chertoff has a news conference,’ I'm just not gonna do that anymore.”
The union was concerned enough to write the letter a year ago. They finally have the attention they wanted, but they say it’s unfortunate that it took a disaster to get the government to take a hard look ant what’s happening inside FEMA.
Gulf Coast Workers Persist Despite Worries Over Families, Lost Homes, Missing Colleagues
By Stephen Barr
Thursday, September 8, 2005; B02
As Hurricane Katrina roared toward the Gulf Coast on Aug. 28, Linda Zech Jones put her three boys, the German shepherd, clothes for three days, dog food and a box of important papers into the car and hit the road. She was headed west out of New Orleans.
Three hours later, at 7:30 a.m., in a massive traffic jam, she had gone one mile. Jones turned around and headed east, driving nine hours to stay with friends in Alabama.
Her husband, Bruce Jones , is a Coast Guard captain and commander of the service's air station in New Orleans. He remained in New Orleans, helping batten down the station before flying out with other pilots to Lake Charles, La., and Houston to wait for Katrina, which swirled ashore Aug. 29.
Three days later, Linda Jones and her children left Alabama to stay with her sister in Indiana, then moved again to settle in Traverse City, Mich., where the family previously lived, for the school year. Jones calls her family "most fortunate. Bruce has a job. We are safe. That's about as good as it gets."
The Joneses are among thousands of federal families who have had their lives disrupted by the hurricane. Many of the families in New Orleans and along the Mississippi coast lost their homes and belongings, and some government employees are still missing more than a week after Katrina.
The U.S. Postal Service, for example, said yesterday that 2,000 of 6,000 employees in areas ravaged by Katrina have not been heard from, perhaps because they are without telephone service. Thomas G. Day , a senior vice president for the Postal Service, urged employees to call as soon as possible. "We want to know that you are alive and okay," he said.
Despite worries over missing employees and destroyed or damaged buildings, federal workers in the Gulf Coast area have continued to provide services and maintain operations as best they can.
Day said the Postal Service began diverting mail from the hurricane zone Aug. 26 in an effort to minimize loss and, in New Orleans, moved mail to the upper floors of post offices to avoid flood damage. The agency has set up temporary post offices and pickup points for people who need their Social Security checks.
Prior to Katrina's strike on the Gulf Coast, the Veterans Affairs Department evacuated about 140 patients from its hospitals in Gulfport and Biloxi, Miss. When the levees broke in New Orleans, the department evacuated more than 750 people from its medical center in the city -- 252 patients were flown out, and about 500 employees and family members were taken out by bus.
VA spokesman Phil Budahn said about 1,600 VA employees have volunteered for deployment to the disaster area, including 340 medical personnel.
Kimberly Pyle , a congressional communications manager at the Federal Aviation Administration, said FAA employees camped out at airports so they could provide air traffic control service to relief flights and worked extra hours to repair airports and equipment. "Without them, there would have been no evacuation flights," she wrote in an e-mail.
Customs and Border Protection, a part of the Department of Homeland Security, had 379 employees in the Gulf Coast region and 291 were listed as displaced employees Tuesday, CBP spokeswoman Kristi Clemens said.
More than 600 CBP personnel are in the region providing recovery and law enforcement services, with operations coordinated from a command center in Hammond, La. Colleen M. Kelley , president of the National Treasury Employees Union, said hundreds of CBP employees have volunteered for Katrina duty -- more than the agency can deploy, she noted.
Bruce Jones, the Coast Guard air station commander in New Orleans, said his station had helicopters flying over the city about two hours after the hurricane hit. By his count, the Coast Guard has saved 6,468 lives over the last seven days.
He and his wife grew up in the Fort Hunt area, south of Alexandria, and started dating when they were in college (Bruce at Washington & Lee and Linda at James Madison). Since Katrina hit, they have talked "very briefly" three times, Linda Jones said.
Bruce Jones said yesterday that his next goal is to give Coast Guard pilots and employees some time off to deal with family issues -- some employees are single parents -- and prepare insurance claims. "Many of our people have lost their homes," he said.
"We will be staying here and working here for the next year," Jones said, "but our spouses and children are in other places."
OPM AUTHORIZES EMERGENCY HIRING DUE TO HURRICANE KATRINA
Tuesday Office of Personnel Management Director Linda M. Springer, in a memorandum to executive department and agency heads, authorized making excepted appointments under CFR 213.3102(i)(3) to fill, on a temporary basis up to one year, positions affected by or needed to deal with Hurricane Katrina’s aftermath.
Appointments may also be made under the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act (P.L. 93-288, as amended), which allows organization heads to hire temporary staff, consultants and experts to aid in disaster assistance during presidentially-declared emergencies. For information on implementation and appropriate use, agency and department heads are encouraged to contact their legal staffs.
On June 28, OPM Acting Director Dan Blair wrote a memorandum to all department and agency heads on the human resource flexibilities that are available to help federal employees affected by severe weather emergencies and natural disasters. The memo can be accessed at http://www.opm.gov/oca/compmemo/2005/2005-13.asp
For additional information, heads of organizations are encouraged to contact their assigned OPM Human Capital Officer.
For more OPM HR information relating to Hurricane Katrina, visit http://www.opm.gov/katrina/
TABLE OF CONTENTS
OPM RELEASES HANDBOOK ON PAY, LEAVE BENEFITS FOR FEDS AFFECTED BY SEVERE WEATHER CONDITIONS, OTHER EMERGENCIES
OPM POSTS HEALTH BENEFIT, INSURANCE INFORMATION FOR HURRICANE VICTIMS
OPM AUTHORIZES EMERGENCY HIRING DUE TO HURRICANE KATRINA
USDA OFFICIALS RECEIVE 2004 PRESIDENTIAL RANK AWARDS
FPMI OFFERS STAFFING SUPPORT
HRM CERTIFICATION ASSURES AGENCIES HRM PROFESSIONALS HAVE TOOLS TO PERFORM
HOW MANY MORE RETIREMENT MISTAKES CAN YOU MAKE BEFORE YOU RETIRE?