In the aftermath of natural disaster Americans are urged
give generously to help victims of tragedy. These monies are above and beyond
the taxes paid by our citizens that the Bush administration refers to as
federal aid. We've been assured that the federal protection umbrella,
Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)
are mobilized and ready to move into any disaster area within hours. Following
the debacle of mismanagement and systems failure just witnessed in Louisiana
and New Orleans, it is time to look beyond opening our checkbooks to consider
what we are paying for, both through charitable organizations and the federal
government in taxes.
Hurricane Katrina and the devastation of New Orleans is a
tragedy of colossal proportions for all Americans. Words are insufficient
to portray what went wrong, but clearly this is the time to evaluate, to
scrutinize, to peek under the cover of the structure of FEMA that after
the 9/11 disaster was rolled into a newly created Hydra-headed bureaucracy, the
Department of Homeland Security (DHS). We may never get another chance and the
demand must come from the people because on September 14, exactly 20 days after
Governor Blanco declared a State of Emergency in Louisiana and requested help
from the federal government, the Senate Republican majority voted down a
measure calling for an independent commission to investigate what went wrong
with federal, state and local governments' response to Hurricane Katrina. .
President Bush states that he plans to investigate and
oversee what “went wrong” with the federal response to Hurricane Katrina. He
must not be permitted to do this any more than he should have been allowed to
stop every effort to have an independent investigation of the 911 disaster. An
independent counsel and commission with full grand jury/subpoena authority are needed.
More importantly, if one can still be found in this country; the independent
counsel must be removed from both political and corporate connections. We may
have to go to British MP George Galloway to find such a person but someone must
expose the lickspittles of this administration and remove the curtain covering
the Wizard of Oz.
With our current politicized judicial system there are few
independent counsels left with the stature of Lawrence Walsh who exposed the
Reagan-Bush administration's Iran-Contra operatives. Walsh's efforts came to
naught when then President George H. W. Bush pardoned six of the key figures
and the Democratic-controlled Congress allowed him to get away with it. Several
Iran-Contra operatives have returned to the current administration in prominent
policy-making positions of power. 
Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)
FEMA was created by a series of executive orders that were
issued by the president. It was conceived and constructed by Executive Order
12148 during the Carter administration to respond to nuclear attack. The
reasoning behind its formation was for a system to be in place to coordinate
governmental functions in the event that Washington, DC, was attacked. FEMA,
with no congressional oversight, has grown into a governmental leviathan akin
to a monstrous sea creature. Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) refers to FEMA as a
“bureaucratic black hole that spends money without the slightest
Following FEMA's inadequate response to Hurricane Andrew that
hit Florida in 1992, Congress examined the agency and reported that only a
small proportion (about 12 percent) of its budget was actually going for
disaster recovery and relief. Calls by Congress to make the agency responsive
to emergency-disaster regional needs were addressed by the Clinton
FEMA took on both accountability and visibility and
recovered from its former stigma of an agency for political paybacks. It became
a model agency that attracted professionals in disaster recovery such as
Director James Lee Witt. By contrast, Bush's appointee, Joe Albaugh, a Texas
political operative was at the helm on September 11, 2001 when the next major
disaster struck the United States. 
Intense criticism of FEMA emerged following its response to
the 9-11 disaster. In the aftermath restructuring, FEMA lost cabinet status and
was folded into the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The primary mandate
for FEMA became protection from terrorist attack rather than protection and
relief for citizens following natural disasters.
According to medical rescue team reports, Cipro to treat
Anthrax and supplies designed for use against chemical attack were in the first
shipment from FEMA to arrive at the Baton Rouge, Louisiana, field hospital because
this response was mandated by the new standardized emergency protocol. 
The media portray FEMA as a bungling and inept emergency
management agency and they may be partially correct given its current structure
and leadership. But not withstanding the agency's poor response to Katrina, the
umbrella agency Department of Homeland Security needs special scrutiny before
this tragedy is swept under the rug. In fact, the federal official with the
power to mobilize a massive federal response to Katrina was Homeland Security
Secretary Michael Chertoff. According to the National Response Plan, the
federal government's blueprint for how agencies will handle major national
disasters or terrorist incidents, the secretary of DHS was charged with that
responsibility by President Bush in 2003. 
Homeland Security Fails Tests Along the Way and Bombs with
The media ridiculed Homeland Security's first
director, Tom Ridge, for spending a year in planning the system designed
to protect our nation and then coming up with color coding for
disaster alerts, along with timely advice to prepare our homes with plastic
sheets and duct tape in the event of biochemical or biological attacks.
Crayolas are still used to alert the people that trouble is afoot in our
land, but no amount of prose, color-coding or duct tape can shut off the
horror we've just witnessed in New Orleans with FEMA directly obstructing
relief efforts by groups and individuals who were trying to rescue people and
Tom Ridge got out just in time. Michael Brown was not
so lucky. He has now resigned from FEMA with enough bad publicity that he may
find the job market rather tight. His replacement, David Paulison, is the
person responsible for the duct tape and plastic solution to biological, chemical
or radiological attacks issued by DHS in 2003. President Bush has promised him
the full support of the federal government as he comes up to speed. I await Jon
Stewart's commentary on this appointment.
So far there has been little scrutiny of Michael Chertoff,
the new security czar who holds dual citizenship (Israel and the United
States). Most of the media directed their attention and blame on Michael Brown,
who as FEMA's director was clearly ill prepared to handle the job. Brown
believes he has been scapegoated by the media and, in part, I agree. This
debacle is much larger than merely placing political appointees in
positions for which they are unqualified.
The Bush administration's response to 9-11 (instill
fear--declare a war on terror--create a bigger and more
cumbersome leviathan) has left us as a nation bloated and weakened in
hope. We will not survive this assault unless a majority of citizens demand
that their elected representative examine and change the structure that
paralyzed New Orleans and much of Louisiana in September 2005. Congress must be
coerced to do their job of oversight and the Senate forced to do its job by
mandating an independent commission to investigate how and why the system
failed. This will not happen unless we ask the right questions and demand
answers. We lose the big picture if we look at job performance and credentials
of individuals without understanding the structure in which these people have
The response of Congress to date has been to pour $52
billion into FEMA. Congressman Ron Paul reported that the original $10 billion
authorized by Congress, which the Republican leadership would not permit any
debate on, was spent in a matter of days. 
Remember the first rule of science and organizations:
Structure determines function. FEMA has been allowed to function as a political
burrow for various administrations to conduct business away from scrutiny or
oversight. Its major purpose has not been fulfilled if that function is to
assist areas and persons afflicted by monstrous disasters.
Most of us, like the mayor of New Orleans and governor of
Louisiana, expected that when they declared a state disaster emergency Friday,
August 26, and called for help it would be forthcoming. This was a false assumption
that many of us made as we waited for help to arrive to aid the disaster area.
Each day Americans and the world faced a new visual horror.
For those who watched the Tim Russert program on September
4, a full 10 days into the disaster, in which Aaron Broussard, the president of
Jefferson Parish emotionally described FEMA officials blocking help from
arriving and then recounting the death by drowning of his associate's mother in
a nursing home, we recoiled from this reality. Many of us wept along with
Broussard. This happened in our country, in this century under the watch of
Changing of the Guard is Mere Window Dressing
Changing personnel is not the answer to FEMA's problem. The
American people need to demand that the structure of FEMA and Homeland Security
be carefully examined by an independent commission that is willing to go back
to the drawing board and demand that the structure fit the needs of the United
States in the 21st Century.
The old U.S. Post Office model of political cronyism will
destroy us as surely as it destroyed New Orleans. President Bush has used the
FEMA mechanism to funnel what is known in political circles as “walking around
money.” Large sums of “hurricane relief” money were dispersed in Florida prior
to the November 2004 election allegedly to buy votes in a state that was
critical for Bush to carry.  This is “walking around money” in its most
One need only examine each of the 10 regional FEMA districts
for an education on its structure, function and personnel.  If we examine
only two, Regions VI and X, the problems are evident for disasters waiting to
happen or as in the case of Region VI, the disaster has already occurred. FEMA
Region VI includes Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico and Texas.
Region VI Acting Director Gary Jones' official resumé lists
41 years of government experience. He holds a bachelor's degree in education
from the University of Arkansas and a master's degree from Tulane University.
(The years those degrees were awarded are not available.) He has served as
acting director on four other separate occasions. Is this political cronyism?
Only an independent investigation could determine why the leadership in Region
VI failed so miserably in Louisiana and New Orleans.
The case for political cronyism is abundantly clear in
Region X an area responsible for Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Alaska. John
Pennington was appointed as FEMA regional director in December 2001. He was
promoted by former Republican Congresswoman Jennifer Dunn who chaired the 2000
Washington State Committee to Elect Bush president. Dunn called Pennington “a
natural” after reviewing his work on that political committee. Mr. Pennington
holds a BS degree from California Coast University, a correspondence school, which
at the time that Pennington obtained his degree was nonaccredited.
With our present framework in governmental practice, Dr.
Lawrence Peter's Principle has played itself out from the level of the
president downward. An old Yiddish proverb states that the fish stinks from the head.
Not to put too fine a point on the state of the union, but there is a smell
emitting from New Orleans that should cause Americans to either purchase gas
masks or decide to clean up the garbage in DC and beyond.
Homeland Security and FEMA have failed a massive systems
test, and in the language of No child
left behind, failure will no longer be tolerated. To members of the House
and Senate, the message is clear. Fix the structure or you will lose your jobs!
We cannot wait for the next disaster to find out that the U.S. Cavalry is a
no-show charade directed by incompetents placed into a Hydra-headed bureaucracy
by a president addicted to cronyism. It is a false premise to believe that the
United States can be fully protected from either natural or manmade disasters.
But can we at least have an adequate response to disaster to minimize damage?
 Jordan, Lara Jakes (September 14, 2005) Senate Kills Bid for Katrina Commission. Associated
 Kornbluh, Peter (May 7, 2001). Bush's Contra Buddies.
[3 ] Ron Paul (September 12, 2005). Ron Paul's Texas Straight Talk.
 Benjamin, Mark (September 17, 2005). The Crony who prospered. Salon.com
 Burger, Julian & Campbell, Duncan, (September 3,
2005). Why did help take so long to
arrive? The Guardian UK.
 Landry, J.S., Young, A. & McCaffrey, S. (September
13, 2005). Chertoff delayed federal
response memo shows. Knight Ridder.
 O'Matz, Megan & Kestin, Sally (March 23, 2005) State Records show Bush re-election concerns
played part in FEMA Aid. Sun Sentinel.com
Sara S. DeHart, MSN, Ph.D., Associate Professor
Emeritus, University of Minnesota is a freelance writer and democracy activist.
She lives in the Seattle, Washington, area of the United States.