When Politicians' Words Come Back to Haunt Them

"Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job." There is President Bush with his hand on Michael Brown's shoulder, congratulating the FEMA director on what? Well, that became the problem. Looking around, there wasn't much to congratulate him about, which is why he was replaced.
Brownie might be remembered for saying, "I don't want to alarm anyone that New Orleans is filling up like a bowl. That isn't happening."
As has been pointed out, if Brownie had bothered to turn on his TV, he would have seen New Orleans filling up like a bowl.
"Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job." I can imagine it printed on a T-shirt.
Brownie's previous job had been as a judges and stewards commissioner for the International Arabian Horse Association. Bill Pennington, former president of the association, has said, "He was asked to resign after a spate of lawsuits over alleged supervision failures."
Another member of the association said, "He ruined IAHA financially so badly that we had to change the name and combine it with the Purebred registry."
Before turning his attention to horses, Brownie had been assistant to the city manager of Edmond, Okla., from 1977-1980. The city's public relations director told Time magazine, "The assistant is more like an intern."
But Brownie was fortunate in his friends. When his old college roommate Joe Allbaugh, who had been Bush's chief of staff in Texas, was named head of FEMA, he brought in Brownie to help. Allbaugh might be remembered for calling FEMA "an over-sized entitlement program." He left FEMA in December 2002, to make his fortune in the rebuilding of Iraq, urging Bush to name Brownie as his replacement. Bush was happy to oblige.
Actually five of the top positions in FEMA had been political appointments given to men without a trace of experience in the emergency management field. In June 2004, the American Federation of Government Employees complained, "Seasoned staff members are being pushed aside to make room for inexperienced novices and contractors."
Unfortunately, that is too long and cumbersome to be printed on a T-shirt.
More appropriate might be Ray Nagin's question. The New Orleans mayor asked, "Where were they?" I expect that will start showing up on T-shirts in a few weeks.
Where were they when New Orleans was filling up like a bowl? Where were they when food and water were running out in the Superdome and the Convention Center?
It turns out that FEMA was weakened because the Bush administration felt that states should take more responsibility in taking care of their own disasters. In any case money was needed for Homeland Security, of which FEMA had been made a part.
Another memorable quote to emerge from the Katrina debacle came from Republican Congressman Richard Baker of Baton Rouge: "We finally cleaned up public housing in New Orleans. We couldn't do it, but God did."
Baker was overheard chuckling about this to some lobbyists, but then attempted to scramble to moral high ground by claiming to have been perfectly serious. God had helped them do what they had been unable to do for themselves.
In stature, Baker's remark is a little below "Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job." But it, too, could go on a T-shirt: "We couldn't do it, but God did." Both, however, are somewhat below Gen. Douglas MacArthur's memorable remark, "I shall return," said after the Japanese army chased him out of the Philippines in 1942.
Still, they lack the aphoristic quality of some of the playwright Oscar Wilde's remarks, such as, "Patriotism is the virtue of the vicious," and "seriousness is the only refuge of the shallow."
These have a directness and writerly sense of balance absent from Barbara Bush's remark in Houston shortly after the evacuees began to arrive. "So many of the people in the arena here (Houston Astrodome), you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this is working very well for them. ... What I'm hearing, which is sort of scary, is they all want to stay in Texas."
I expect they want to stay in Texas because none were invited to Kennebunkport.
No, memorable phrases need to be quick and easily remembered. Consider Walter Mondale's remark "Where's the beef?" during the 1984 primaries. He was ridiculing Sen. Gary Hart's claim that his candidacy was based on "new ideas."
"New Ideas," said Mondale, "where's the beef?"
And poor Sen. Hart was met with the phrase again and again each time he addressed a crowd. "Hey, Senator, where's the beef?" It must have depressed him as he saw his campaign taking a nosedive.
These are the phrases that come back and haunt, like "Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job."
Even as the president said these words the chaos in the Superdome was causing people to flee to the streets. Though damage assessment crews have yet to enter the building, estimates at repair begin at $100 million. To replace the Superdome would be at least $600 million.
Ironically, it was in the Superdome during the summer of 1988 in the midst of the Republican Convention that one of those remarks that keeps being quoted for years and comes back to haunt the speaker floated out into the air conditioned space. Vice President George H.W. Bush leaned forward and said, "Read my lips: No new taxes."
Well, he later must have kicked himself. Just as his son must have kicked himself: "Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job."


HUD Employees Can Use Paid Leave to Volunteer Where Needed
By Stephen Barr
Friday, September 23, 2005; B02
At the Department of Housing and Urban Development, they've got that volunteer spirit -- and now it's paying off.
HUD and the American Federation of Government Employees have announced a policy that allows workers to take paid administrative leave to volunteer for nonprofit and charitable organizations.
The idea had been talked about for several months, but Hurricane Katrina helped push the department and the union to a decision. "Katrina really focused everybody on the need to be able to pitch in where the need is, and sometimes that is right in your own home town," said Brian Sullivan , a HUD spokesman.
Under the agreement, HUD supervisors may approve administrative leave, without loss of pay, for employees who want to volunteer for nonprofit organizations, such as those helping families forced from their homes in the Gulf states.
HUD employees will be able to request an average of eight hours a month over the course of a year for volunteer work. Supervisor approval is required in advance, and the volunteer activities must be consistent with HUD's mission, which includes community development and helping the homeless.
The union's contract with HUD permitted employees to participate in "adopt a school" programs, said Tom Oravec , a regional AFGE president for New York and New Jersey. Oravec began asking union colleagues, "Why not open it up to nonprofits?"
HUD agreed, but Katrina was a catalyst for closing the deal. "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 Roy A. Bernardi , HUD deputy secretary.
Oravec, a volunteer firefighter, said a number of HUD employees volunteer at the Red Cross and at nonprofits that build housing for people in need of shelter. In the past, HUD employees often took vacation time for volunteer work or limited their volunteer hours to weekends, he said.
"I'm hoping that other agencies will do the same," Oravec said. "It is nice to have that hands-on way to help the community and see the results of your work right away."
482 Unaccounted For
Federal agencies have not heard from or been able to contact 482 employees displaced by Hurricane Katrina last month, the Office of Personnel Management said yesterday.
Tricia Hollis , OPM chief of staff, said the tally is preliminary and could change because OPM continues to collect data from agencies about their personnel along the Gulf Coast. Hollis said agency officials are visiting shelters and contacting next of kin in an attempt to locate missing workers.
The tally is based on a count of 78,000 civil service and postal employees in the region affected by Katrina, although OPM has estimated that as many as 92,000 employees worked in the region. OPM and agencies will take another look at their geographical definitions to refine the tally, Hollis said.
OPM officials said about 44,000 federal employees work in areas that could be hit by Hurricane Rita. But they noted that the estimate could change, depending on the storm's path.
Talk Shows
Stephen C. Benowitz , senior adviser for national emergency response at the Office of Personnel Management, will be the guest on "FEDtalk" at 11 a.m. today on http://federalnewsradio.com and WFED radio (1050 AM).
Nuala O'Connor Kelly , chief privacy officer at the Department of Homeland Security, will be the guest on "The IBM Business of Government Hour" at 9 a.m. Saturday on WJFK radio (106.7 FM).


Safavian’s arrest creates leadership gap for outsourcing efforts

The abrupt arrest Sept. 19 of David Safavian, the Bush administration’s acquisition chief, leaves a void in leadership overseeing the Bush administration’s push to open federal employees’ work to contractor competition.
Safavian quit his job as administrator of federal procurement policy on Sept. 16, the same day the Justice Department filed a criminal complaint against him for allegedly lying to investigators and obstructing a federal investigation. He was arrested on Sept. 19. The investigation by Justice attorneys, the FBI, and inspector general staffs at the Interior Department and General Services Administration are looking into allegations that Safavian improperly accompanied lobbyist Jack Abramoff on a golf trip to Scotland to discuss a possible government business deal with Abramoff. At the time, Safavian was chief of staff at GSA and Abramoff was allegedly seeking Safavian’s help to obtain federal property controlled by GSA.
While at OMB, Safavian pushed agencies to expand their competitive sourcing efforts and pressed lawmakers to drop anti-outsourcing provisions in spending bills pending before Congress, including those for the Transportation, Agriculture and Defense departments. He was also trying to lift a ban on outsourcing competitions at the Veterans Affairs Department and supported a bill — the 2005 Veterans Health Care Act — that would do so.
He closely monitored agencies’ progress in carrying out job competitions and even got involved in some cases. For example, he stepped in to order the Defense Logistics Agency earlier this year to bar federal employees from competing for depot work being put out for contractor competition at the Defense Distribution Depot Cherry Point, N.C., because, he said, an earlier competition had already shown the work could be done more cheaply by the private sector. The federal employees were hired to do the work on a temporary basis after DLA decided not to extend a three-year contract with Labat-Anderson, Inc., following a series of disagreements.
Both contractors and unions saw Safavian as working to reverse the trend of federal employees winning nine out of 10 job competitions. Contractors have charged that, with that winning rate, competitions tilt in favor of employees and remove any incentive for companies to take part.
Stan Soloway, president of the Professional Services Council, an Arlington, Va.-based organization of more than 185 contractors, said he is worried that Safavian’s absence at OMB will take pressure off of agencies to meet their competitive sourcing goals.
“David was really focused. Without him you lose a little of the pressure and clout,” Soloway said.
He added he expects the administration will continue to support competitive sourcing and replace Safavian with someone else who’s as committed to making the competition process more attractive to contractors.
“The program is at a very delicate point,” he said.
Some labor union officials are happy to see Safavian go. They charge that he leaned too much in favor of the private sector, and they criticized his intervention in some A-76 competitions on behalf of contractors’ interests.
“During his brief but controversial tenure as administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy, Mr. Safavian spoke openly about reopening loopholes that would allow contractors to take work performed by federal employees without requiring any proof that such wholesale transfers to the private sector would generate savings for taxpayers,” said John Threlkeld, assistant legislative director at the American Federation of Government Employees.
Robert Burton, OFPP associate administrator, is managing the office until Safavian’s position is filled.


Wide Net Was Cast for Aid After Katrina
Leaving Day-to-Day Jobs, Federal Workers Volunteer By the Thousands for Duty
By Sam Coates
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 22, 2005; A23
Gunfire rattled around the streets adjacent to the New Orleans Veterans Affairs Medical Center, where James E. Aldridge found himself stationed a week after Hurricane Katrina hit.
As the city descended into chaos and many people were still attempting to flee, Aldridge and 33 other members of the U.S. Veterans Affairs Department police force were just reporting for duty.
Their orders: to secure the medical center and fend off looters prepared to wade through the six feet of murky, diseased water in search of booty.
Located just one block north of the Superdome, the officers found themselves in one of the most dangerous areas of the city, with no one to call for backup. In those lawless days before the arrival of the 82nd Airborne Division, Aldridge had been informed that all the city's law enforcement personnel were pulled out each day at dusk. "When we got there on Sunday, it didn't seem like a major American city. It seemed like a war zone," said Aldridge.
But though many would go a long way to avoid working in such conditions, Aldridge volunteered for exactly this sort of duty.
It is a world away from his regular duties at the VA health care center in Orlando. It is nothing like his previous volunteer work as a federal employee: helping police the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. But when the call for help went out, he felt duty-bound to offer his assistance.
"I decided to volunteer because I'm a police officer and we could see what was needed. The agency was requesting volunteers."
Aldridge is not alone.
There are 1,674 employees of the Interior Department and more than 1,000 members of the Public Health Service Commissioned Corps -- to name just two agencies -- deployed in the hurricane areas. This pattern is repeated across the government, with agencies sending between 10 and 1,000 employees to take part in Katrina duty, demonstrating a federal response that stretches far beyond the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Department of Homeland Security. That will continue: With Hurricane Rita approaching, several Washington-based public health service officers yesterday said they are being sent to Texas.
The federal workers come from all parts of the country, with myriad skills. Among the 238 VA employees currently deployed along the Gulf Coast are health professionals, secretaries and housekeeping staff, in addition to VA police officers such as Aldridge.
There is no total figure for how many federal workers are involved at this stage, however. Although all their work is being coordinated by FEMA, the agency says it has no way of counting heads.
Some are there to provide backup to beleaguered state services, such as those from the Education Department, which has 50 volunteers along the Gulf.
Others have more unique roles, such as the 22 workers from the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development, whose function is to help representatives of foreign embassies obtain access to the affected region, identify and recover the dead, and brief foreign media.
"In the final analysis, Katrina is likely to mean the largest peacetime domestic mobilization in the history of the United States," said David M. Walker, U.S. comptroller general and head of the Government Accountability Office.
The impact of Katrina will be felt throughout the federal government, he added. "There's no question there will be a ripple effect. How much will depend on the various departments and agencies."
Walker, who will work with the federal departments' inspectors general, as well as state, city and county auditors, to evaluate the success of the federal response, cautioned against agencies throwing too much manpower into the region. "There are many people who want to help at some point of time, but there has to be some organization to ensure they are effectively utilized," he said.
This has become somewhat irrelevant for thousands of federal workers who have volunteered to help but have been denied permission to go by managers.
At the Department of Housing and Urban Development, for example, approximately 700 employees signed up, but only 40 were sent. Charles Showalter of the American Federation of Government Employees estimates that "many hundreds, if not thousands," have been held back.
He said the government has been uneven in deciding who goes. "Some officers were forced into deployment, yet it appears other officers of a similar specialty [who did volunteer] were bypassed. I have received reports from many of my local presidents saying that far more people are putting themselves forward than are being put on the [deployment] list," Showalter said.
Last week, employees at the Department of Homeland Security were sent an e-mail thanking them for their offers of "personal sacrifices" but advising that there were many restrictions on those who could participate -- for instance, only employees with government credit cards would be allowed to go. The e-mail suggested that employees wanting to help should instead contribute to the American Red Cross and other relief organizations.
Walker is already evaluating the performance of agencies in the days and weeks after the hurricane made landfall.
"The Coast Guard appears to have performed well, the Weather Service did well, the Postal Service took a number of steps to try and minimize disruption," Walker said. "The military seems to have responded quickly after they were called out, but there was a delay, and FEMA and others are not looking like they did so well."


Back Door Rollback of Federal Whistleblower Protections
Department of Labor Seeks to Block Federal Environmental Whistle Blowing

WASHINGTON - September 22 - In a behind-the-scenes maneuver, the U.S. Department of Labor is moving to cancel whistleblower protections for federal employees who report environmental problems, according to an agency order released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) and the Government Accountability Project (GAP). If it succeeds, the Labor Department will dismiss scores of whistleblower retaliation claims filed by federal workers who reported violations under laws such as the Clean Air Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act. The two whistleblower protection groups are filing a counter legal brief today in an attempt to block the move.
Approximately 170,000 federal employees working within environmental agencies would be directly affected by the loss of whistleblower rights. Tens of thousands of workers in non-environmental agencies, such as the Department of Defense, but who report pollution violations would also lose legal protection.
“Federal workers in agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency function as the public’s eyes and ears to shed light on imminent threats to public health and safety, particularly when administration politics work to keep the public in the dark,” stated PEER General Counsel Richard Condit, noting that eight major federal environmental laws safeguard employees for good faith efforts to enforce or implement the anti-pollution provisions contained within these laws. “At a time when honesty within our federal agencies is more important than ever, the Labor Department is moving to shut down one of the few legal avenues left to whistleblowers.”
The Labor Department seeks to invoke the ancient doctrine of sovereign immunity in all whistleblower cases filed by federal workers, thereby foreclosing any relief in cases of reprisal by federal agencies. This action arose last month in a case involving an EPA employee named Sharyn Erickson who has won two whistleblower cases against the agency. A Labor Department administrative law judge called EPA’s conduct “reprehensible” and awarded Erickson $225,000 in punitive damages for reporting problems with agency contracts for toxic clean-ups.
In a highly unusual move, the Secretary of Labor’s Administrative Review Board on its own motion invited EPA to raise a sovereign immunity defense against Erickson’s attempts to enforce her earlier legal victories over the agency. This invitation comes after many EPA employees over the past decade have successfully used the whistleblower provisions of the eight major federal environmental laws to reverse political interference in pollution cases. In virtually all these cases, the sovereign immunity defense had become a dead issue. Now Labor Secretary Elaine Chao is signaling that this obscure, moribund legal argument will suddenly be looked upon with favor.
“Under this latest Bush administration gambit, federal environmental specialists would not be protected by the very laws they are supposed to be enforcing,” said GAP General Counsel Joanne Royce. “We do not want public servants wondering whether they will lose their jobs for acting against pollution violations of politically well-connected interests.”
If the Labor Department does officially sanction the sovereign immunity defense against Erickson’s claims, the case will be appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11 th Circuit based in Atlanta. In the interim, however, scores of federal employee whistleblower cases may be dismissed or languish in limbo


Julie Myers would run a federal agency
Katrina’s fallout imperils Kansan’s chance at key job

The Star’s Washington Correspondent
WASHINGTON – For once in her career, Julie Myers seems to have suffered from bad timing.
Myers’ resume glistens of Washington gold — Ivy league law school, clerk for a federal appeals court judge, a series of high-level Bush administration jobs.
But Myers, a 36-year-old who grew up in Johnson County, hit a speed bump on the Beltway fast track last week. Nominated to lead the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency in the Department of Homeland Security, Myers has instead been labeled as another inexperienced political appointee.
And political appointees — especially in the Department of Homeland Security — are under a microscope after Hurricane Katrina.
Michael Brown, the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, was forced out after reports that before joining FEMA, he had been a horse-show rules enforcer. Subsequent reports found that most high-level FEMA employees lacked disaster management experience.
The White House and some Senate supporters have fired back at critics who question whether Myers has the appropriate law enforcement experience. White House spokesman Allen Abney said Myers “has a proven record as an effective manager and is well-known in the law enforcement community.”
Abney said Myers would not comment on the matter while awaiting Senate confirmation. But at her confirmation hearing last week, Myers said she would draw on the experience of her underlings and promised, “I will not let you down.”
At the confirmation hearing, senators from both parties questioned Myers’ credentials to run the agency, which enforces the nation’s immigration laws, has 20,000 employees and a $4 billion budget.
Republican Sen. George Voinovich of Ohio told Myers, “Based on the resume, I don’t think you are” qualified.
Michelle Malkin, a conservative commentator, referred to her as “another Homeland Security hack” in a column opposing her nomination; liberal New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd derided Myers as a “nothingburger.” An article detailing the increased scrutiny of Myers and criticism of her appointment wound up on the front page of The Washington Post.
Such turbulence does not typically surround second-tier political appointments. Such nominees generally receive Senate approval “if they’re breathing, if they have no criminal record and if they have a little bit of experience,” said Paul Light, an expert in presidential administration at New York University.
“It’s bad timing for her,” Light said of Myers. “It’s good timing in terms of asking her hard questions. It’s the silver lining in Katrina — that the Senate is finally paying attention to nominees. Hopefully, the White House will follow suit. Maybe they’ll start to realize that not just anybody can fill these jobs.”
Filling top government positions with political allies is not unique to the Bush administration. Andrew Jackson formally instituted the so-called spoils system after his 1828 election. Its underside quickly became evident when his appointee as collector of the New York City customs house — an old Army chum — was accused of embezzling more than $1 million.
Ever since, presidents of both parties have occasionally been embarrassed by their political appointees.
In the case of Myers, there is more than just Katrina fallout at play, said Ed DeSeve, a public administration expert at the University of Maryland.
“Whenever you have a politically hot issue, you’ll get more scrutiny,” he said. “Immigration is a hot topic right now.”
In Myers’ case, Voinovich will talk to Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff before deciding on Myers to make sure Chertoff wants her on board, said Marcie Ridgway, Voinovich’s spokeswoman. Myers worked for Chertoff for a time at the Justice Department and last Saturday married his chief of staff.
Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, the Republican chairwoman of the Government Affairs and Homeland Security Committee, will await Myers’ written answers to more detailed questions before deciding how to proceed, said Jen Burita, Collins’ spokeswoman.
Myers, whose mother lives in Overland Park and whose uncle is Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, graduated from Baylor University and Cornell Law School. After clerking for a judge on the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, she was employed for two years at a large Chicago law firm before moving to Washington, where she worked for 16 months on independent counsel Kenneth Starr’s investigation of Clinton. She then was a federal prosecutor in Brooklyn for two years.
Myers joined the Bush administration in November 2001 as deputy assistant secretary for money laundering and financial crimes at the Treasury Department. She went to the Justice Department in November 2002 as chief of staff of the criminal division for Chertoff, who was then an assistant attorney general.
In October 2003, Myers moved to the Commerce Department, where she was assistant secretary for export enforcement for about a year before going to work at the White House in November 2004, where she has been a special assistant for presidential personnel.
At the Commerce Department, Myers oversaw a staff of about 200 and a $25 million budget. At the White House, she has managed fewer than a half-dozen people. She also has not worked directly in enforcing immigration laws.
“It’s evident from looking at your resume and hearing your testimony that you have considerable legal experience,” Collins told Myers at last week’s hearing. “You have terrific experience in trying cases and investigations, but I still haven’t heard very much about direct management experience.”
The Immigration and Customs Enforcement Bureau is the country’s second-largest investigative agency. Sen. Joseph Lieberman, a Connecticut Democrat, called the agency “vitally important … with a daunting combination of missions.”
“The defense of this nation from terrorist attacks should be the highest priority, and the agency’s immigration and customs investigators have an important role to play in cracking down on human smuggling and money laundering activities that benefit terrorists,” Lieberman said.
The assistant secretary’s job requires, by law, five years of law enforcement and management experience. Myers conceded at the hearing she has “the minimum management experience that’s required under statute.”
“I realize that I’m not 80 years old,” Myers told the senators. “I have a few gray hairs, more coming, but I will seek to work with those who are knowledgeable in this area who know more than I do. … And if the Senate confirms me, I will not let you down.”
In her White House job, Myers’ salary is $92,100. If she is confirmed to the Homeland Security post, she would be paid $140,300.
While Myers’ confirmation remains unsettled, she does have vocal supporters in the Senate.
Sen. Kit Bond of Missouri, a Republican who is a distant relative of Myers’ husband, called her “a very able person who is extremely well-qualified. She has proven herself more than capable in previous positions within the federal government and has great potential.”
And Republican Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas spun some home-state imagery in introducing Myers at her confirmation hearing, saying that “Kansas has been the home of many great public servants, especially in law enforcement.”
“Who can forget the legends of Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson?” Roberts said. “Their efforts helped clean up my hometown of Dodge City. I knew Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson, and Julie could ride shotgun with them anytime.”

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