Friday, December 23, 2005

Behind the FEMA meltdown

The highly visible failure of the Federal Emergency Management Agency in this year's Gulf Coast hurricanes actually began years ago and at the highest levels of the Bush administration, according to the Washington Post today. FEMA fell apart under fire not only because it had been shoved into a corner of the new Department of Homeland Security (DHS), but also because FEMA boss Michael Brown so fiercely -- and unsuccessfully -- fought the reorganization. In response, Bush administration officialdom emasculated Brown's FEMA.

Michael Grunwald and Susan Glasser write:
In many ways, Brown is a cautionary tale of what can happen to Washington officials who make mistakes in the public eye after making enemies behind the scenes. Brown spent two years trying to use his contacts with White House officials to undercut DHS, but the White House rarely backed him, and DHS leaders responded by shifting FEMA's responsibilities and resources to more cooperative agencies.

[Homeland Security Secretary Tom] Ridge stripped FEMA's power over billions of dollars worth of preparedness grants as well as the creation of a national disaster response plan. Most of the agency's top staff quit. And after he arrived at DHS in February, [Ridge’s successor, Michael] Chertoff decided to take away the rest of FEMA's preparedness duties.

The full story is here. The writers took questions from readers this morning. I gather that their work continues tomorrow.

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