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November 30, 2005

FEMA auditors found contracting incompetence pre-Katrina

News from the Gulf Coast Reconstruction Watch: FEMA's own auditors found serious contracting incompetence over a year ago.

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From the same administration that paid Armstrong Williams and had the military write positive-spin articles and pay to put them into Iraqi newspapers? Shocked, shocked I am!

Am sure there was no incompetence there prior to GW Bush's inaugauration. It all started then.

In 1994, the Northridge earthquake took out the 10 freeway. State officials were told by Caltrans that "oh, it'll take yeeaaaars for the 10 freeway to be rebuilt, and it's going to take x dollars." President Clinton got on the phone and said, "my _ass_ it's going to take 10 years. Open it up for private bidding, and we'll get it done cheaper and faster than any 10 years." Sure enough, because the president managed to get off his ass about it, instead of just shrugging his shoulders and leaving the state and local officials to flounder, the 10 was rebuilt, quick.

During Katrina, we had President George W. Bush and Michael Brown, and VP Cheney, who took almost a week to bother ending his vacation, and the best thing anybody can think of to say about these people is: "well, it's all the state and local people's responsibility. The federal government can't and shouldn't do anything to save anyone from drowning."

Give me President Clinton back.

--In 1994, the Northridge earthquake took out the 10 freeway. State officials were told by Caltrans that "oh, it'll take yeeaaaars for the 10 freeway to be rebuilt, and it's going to take x dollars." President Clinton got on the phone and said, "my _ass_ it's going to take 10 years. Open it up for private bidding, and we'll get it done cheaper and faster than any 10 years." --

You give a very specific quote there. Please provide the source for this information

(laughing) No, phantom, that's not a direct quote. As Oliver North indicated, it would be a shocking and shameful suggestion to intimate that a public servant would ever use the word "ass" in private. It's been a long 11 years, and I don't remember where I read that Clinton expedited the rebuilding of the 10, after he was initially told that it would take years. I'll try to find a report showing that, for you.

But if you'd like backup showing that Clinton and his FEMA took action, and that President Bush and his FEMA fumbled, I'm glad you asked:

http://www.fema.gov/library/wittspch4.shtm

Provides us with some great quotes, such as:

"When President Clinton asked me to be director of FEMA in 1993, one of the most important mandates I received from him was to turn FEMA into a pro-active -- not merely reactive -- government agency."

And lest it seem an empty statement, the rest of the speech references the information-sharing initiatives on earthquakes that James Lee Witt's FEMA undertook with Japan, _before_ the Northridge earthquake, I might add. And, the speech itself was delivered in Japan, after Northridge and Kobe, on just such an information-sharing mission.

On the other hand, on the very day when President Bush claimed later that "everybody thought New Orleans had dodged a bullet," any search for news headlines clearly shows the words "New Orleans Devastated," "Total Devastation," etc., in dozens of newspapers the whole country over.

Here's a good article from the LA Times:

http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-na-fema5sep05,0,2650635,full.story?coll=la-home-headlines

Good quotes from it:

>Richard W. Krimm, a former senior FEMA official for several administrations, agreed. "It was a terrible mistake to take disaster response and recovery … and disaster preparedness and mitigation, and put them in Homeland Security," he said.


>"They can't do that," former agency chief of staff Jane Bullock said of Bush administration efforts to shift responsibility away from Washington. "The moment the president declared a federal disaster, it became a federal responsibility…. The federal government took ownership over the response," she said. Bush declared a disaster in Louisiana and Mississippi when the storm hit a week ago.

>"What's awe-inspiring here is how many federal officials didn't issue any orders," said Paul C. Light, an authority on government operations at New York University.


"But according to a variety of former officials and outside experts, the agency experienced a renaissance under President Clinton's director, James Lee Witt, speedily responding to the 1993 Mississippi flood, the 1994 Northridge earthquake and other disasters."


"But with the change of administration in 2001, many of Witt's prevention programs were reduced or cut entirely. After Sept. 11, former FEMA officials and outside authorities said, Washington's attention turned to terrorism to the exclusion of almost anything else."

I can attest to this personally:

"But according to a variety of former officials and outside experts, the agency experienced a renaissance under President Clinton's director, James Lee Witt, speedily responding to the 1993 Mississippi flood, the 1994 Northridge earthquake and other disasters."

I was in Los Angeles for the Northridge quake, and I saw FEMA's aid center on the Santa Monica Promenade with my own eyes, expediting relief applications within a few days of the quake. I also saw that 10 Freeway rebuilt, as well as the interstate 5, and quickly.

--President Clinton got on the phone and said, "my _ass_ it's going to take 10 years. Open it up for private bidding, and we'll get it done cheaper and faster than any 10 years." --

So it wasn't a quote. But it was a nice story, though!

Pete Wilson wrote an article about the I-10 rebuilding, and the lessons he learned that could be applied to rebuilding NOLA: http://www.opinionjournal.com/editorial/feature.html?id=110007252

According to Wilson, he was told that reconstruction would take at least 2 years, but it was done in 66 days.

While Wilson doesn't mention Clinton, preferring to hoard all the credit for himself, he does mention the fact that reconstruction will require a large amount of federal funds. I would go a step further, and say that without that commitment from the federal government, the private investment needed to rebuild will not be forthcoming.

So far, the lessons Wilson learned while rebuilding from the earthquake have not been applied to NOLA reconstruction. Instead of competitive bidding for contracts that reward early completion, we've had no-bid contracts for politically connected firms. Instead of seeking in-state companies, work has been given to out-of-state companies. And instead of a local/state/federal partnership to cut red tape and expedite construction, we've had infighting and finger-pointing. Nobody is blameless, but it does make one nostalgic for the day when we had a real leader in the White House.

Thank you Gordo, I agree. Many people in Washington are privileged, but these people who were granted the presidency and vice presidency are in way over their heads. They left these people to drown because they couldn't be bothered to get off their fat rear ends and work. If they had any morals they'd be ashamed. If they had any self-consciousness, they'd realize when they look like a joke.

As the LA Times article shows, the federal government can be and were, once, effective responders to natural disasters. Under President Clinton's leadership, a FEMA which had been a joke under the first President Bush and Hurricane Andrew became a fairly well-functioning body, and I saw it give a looot of help to people in trouble after that earthquake. George W. Bush gave it to a crony of a crony, who didn't know what the hell he was doing. Pray that you never have to wait for George W. Bush to save you from a disaster.

They left these people to die.

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