(WASHINGTON)—John Gage, national president of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) praised the untiring effort by career employees at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to respond to Hurricane Katrina in spite of failings by agency upper management.
“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,” said 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.”
Gage noted that most FEMA officials who were appointed by the president lacked significant disaster response and emergency preparedness experience prior to joining the agency. In contrast, FEMA career employees have responded over the years to hurricanes, earth quakes and even the Oklahoma City bombing terrorist attack. In June of 2004, AFGE Local 4060, which represents employees at FEMA headquarters, sent a letter to members of 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.
“If ever there was an agency where experience and qualifications were of paramount importance, an agency that literally has a direct impact on the lives and potential deaths of Americans, FEMA would be near the top of the list,” added Gage.
“FEMA Director Michael Brown is a nice guy, but as tragically demonstrated by the response to Hurricane Katrina, he lacks the experience and know-how needed to prepare for and respond to a catastrophe,” said Leo Bosner, president of AFGE Local 4060.
The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) is the largest federal employee union, representing 600,000 workers in the federal government and the government of the District of Columbia.