You are here


FEMA internal memos not as damning as you might think

From Memo: FEMA had problems before Katrina

FEMA struggled to locate food, ice, water and even body bags in the days following Hurricane Katrina, a frantic effort punctuated by bureaucratic chaos, infighting and concerns about media coverage, according to memos obtained Monday by The Associated Press.
"Biggest issue: resources are far exceeded by requirements," wrote William Carwile, the top Federal Emergency Management Agency official in Mississippi in a Sept. 3 e-mail to a state official. "Getting less than 25 percent of what we have been requesting from HQ daily."
The memos underscore how FEMA was overwhelmed and underprepared for Katrina. The e-mails - 25 pages in all - represent a partial response to a request for documents by a House panel investigating the government's slow response to the storm...

Excerpts of other emails follows. There don't appear to be any big smoking guns in them, despite the worrisome second paragraph above. I'll update this if I find the full text of the memos, or leave a link in the comments.
It does, however, have this:

As Katrina approached, FEMA officials bristled at pressure from the White House to activate a group of strategy advisers as outlined in the National Response Plan that was issued by Homeland Security in January.
"This is the job of long-term recovery ... in the NRP and FEMA is the lead," wrote FEMA deputy chief of staff Brooks Altshuler in an Aug. 28 e-mail to Rhode, which was forwarded to Brown.

WaPo: FEMA leaders "lacking disaster experience"

From this WaPo article:

Five of eight top Federal Emergency Management Agency officials came to their posts with virtually no experience in handling disasters and now lead an agency whose ranks of seasoned crisis managers have thinned dramatically since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
FEMA's top three leaders -- Director Michael D. Brown, Chief of Staff Patrick J. Rhode and Deputy Chief of Staff Brooks D. Altshuler -- arrived with ties to President Bush's 2000 campaign or to the White House advance operation, according to the agency. Two other senior operational jobs are filled by a former Republican lieutenant governor of Nebraska anda U.S. Chamber of Commerce official who was once a political operative.

Emphasis added; as Brown points out, he has had some on-the-job experience. And, as Joe Lieberman pointed out, he did have disaster experience as an assistant city manager.

...Meanwhile, veterans such as U.S. hurricane specialist Eric Tolbert and World Trade Center disaster managers Laurence W. Zensinger and Bruce P. Baughman -- who led FEMA's offices of response, recovery and preparedness, respectively -- have left since 2003, taking jobs as consultants or state emergency managers...
...several top FEMA officials are well-regarded by state and private counterparts in disaster preparedness and response... They include Edward G. Buikema, acting director of response since February, and Kenneth O. Burris, acting chief of operations, a career firefighter and former Marietta, Ga., fire chief...
...Rhode, Brown's chief of staff, is a former television reporter who came to Washington as advance deputy director for Bush's Austin-based 2000 campaign and then the White House. He joined FEMA in April 2003 after stints at the Commerce Department and the U.S. Small Business Administration.
Altshuler is a former presidential advance man. His predecessor, Scott Morris, was a media strategist for Bush with the Austin firm Maverick Media.
David I. Maurstad, who stepped down as Nebraska lieutenant governor in 2001 to join FEMA, has served asacting director for risk reduction and federal insurance administrator since June 2004. Daniel A. Craig, a onetime political fundraiser and campaign adviser, came to FEMA in 2001 from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, where he directed the eastern regional office, after working as a lobbyist for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association...
...Department of Homeland Security spokesman Russ Knocke said Brown has managed more than 160 natural disasters as FEMA general counsel and deputy director since 2001, "hands-on experience [that] cannot be understated. Other leadership at FEMA brings particular skill sets -- policy management leadership, for example..."
...The agency's troubles are no secret. The Partnership for Public Service, a nonprofit group that promotes careers in federal government, ranked FEMA last of 28 agencies studied in 2003.
In its list of best places to work in the government, a 2004 survey by the American Federation of Government Employees found that of 84 career FEMA professionals who responded, only 10 people ranked agency leaders excellent or good.
An additional 28 said the leadership was fair and 33 called it poor.
More than 50 said they would move to another agency if they could remain at the same pay grade, and 67 ranked the agency as poorer since its merger into the Department of Homeland Security.

The AFGE is a union, so there's always the possibility that they or their members had their own agenda.

Top three at FEMA: "Bush cronies"

WASHINGTON - The three top jobs at the Federal Emergency Management Agency under President Bush went to political cronies with no apparent experience coping with catastrophes, the Daily News has learned...
...FEMA's No. 2 man, deputy director and chief of staff Patrick Rhode, was an advance man for the Bush-Cheney campaign and White House. He also did short stints at the Commerce Department and Small Business Administration.
Rhode's biography posted on FEMA's Web site doesn't indicate he has any real experience in emergency response.
In addition, the agency's former third-ranking official, deputy chief of staff Scott Morris, was a PR expert who worked for Maverick Media, the Texas outfit that produced TV and radio spots for the Bush-Cheney campaign. In June, Morris moved to Florida to become FEMA's long-term recovery director...
...FEMA also is hampered by several midlevel and regional director's jobs currently held by acting directors...
...Government sources blame Bush's first FEMA director, Joe Allbaugh, with turning FEMA into a patronage shop...

And, from "Top FEMA officials have scant experience in disaster management":

The department's No. 3 official, acting deputy chief of staff Brooks Altshuler, also does not have emergency management experience, according to FEMA spokeswoman Natalie Rule...
Rhode and Altshuler both worked in the White House's Office of National Advance Operations, which arranges the president's travel and scripts his appearances.
The credentials of top FEMA managers stand in contrast to the backgrounds of leaders of the agency during the Clinton administration.
Clinton-era FEMA Director James Lee Witt headed the Arkansas office of emergency services before he was tapped by Clinton in 1993 to run the federal disaster relief agency.
Witt's top aides in 2000, Lynn Canton and Michael Armstrong, both ran regional FEMA offices for at least three years before assuming senior positions with the agency in Washington.

Subscribe to RSS - brooks-altshuler