Bring back the adults
Besides the obvious, what is wrong with FEMA:
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 and a U.S. Chamber of Commerce official who was once a political operative.
The agency has a deep bench of career professionals, said FEMA spokeswoman Nicol Andrews, including two dozen senior field coordinators and Gil Jamieson, director of risk assessment. “Simply because folks who have left the agency have a disagreement with how it’s being run doesn’t necessarily indicate that there is a lack of experience leading it,” she said.
Andrews said the “acting” designation for regional officials is a designation that signifies that they are FEMA civil servants — not political appointees.
Touring the wrecked Gulf Coast with Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff yesterday, Vice President Cheney also defended FEMA leaders, saying, “We’re always trying to strike the right balance” between political appointees and “career professionals that fill the jobs underneath them.”
But experts inside and out of government said a “brain drain” of experienced disaster hands throughout the agency, hastened in part by the appointment of leaders without backgrounds in emergency management, has weakened the agency’s ability to respond to natural disasters. Some security experts and congressional critics say the exodus was fueled by a bureaucratic reshuffling in Washington in 2003, when FEMA was stripped of its independent Cabinet-level status and folded into the Department of Homeland Security.
Emergency preparedness has atrophied as a result, some analysts said, extending from Washington to localities.
“[FEMA] has gone downhill within the department, drained of resources and leadership,” said I.M. “Mac” Destler, a professor at the University of Maryland School of Public Policy. “The crippling of FEMA was one important reason why it failed.”
So what we see here is an organization that has seen some of it’s best professionals leave because they don’t want to work for appointed political hacks who are getting their payback for being party loyalists. Hmmm. Seems like I’ve read this story before:
The White House has ordered the new CIA director, Porter J. Goss, to purge the agency of officers believed to have been disloyal to President Bush or of leaking damaging information to the media about the conduct of the Iraq war and the hunt for Osama bin Laden, according to knowledgeable sources.
“The agency is being purged on instructions from the White House,” said a former senior CIA official who maintains close ties to both the agency and to the White House. “Goss was given instructions … to get rid of those soft leakers and liberal Democrats. The CIA is looked on by the White House as a hotbed of liberals and people who have been obstructing the president’s agenda.”
One of the first casualties appears to be Stephen R. Kappes, deputy director of clandestine services, the CIA’s most powerful division. The Washington Post reported yesterday that Kappes had tendered his resignation after a confrontation with Goss’ chief of staff, Patrick Murray, but at the behest of the White House had agreed to delay his decision until tomorrow.
On Friday John E. McLaughlin, a 32-year veteran of the intelligence division who served as acting CIA director before Goss took over, announced that he was retiring. The spokesman said that the retirement had been planned and was unrelated to the Kappes resignation or to other morale problems inside the CIA. It could not be learned yesterday whether the White House had identified Kappes, a respected operations officer, as one of the officials “disloyal” to Bush.
“The president understands and appreciates the sacrifices made by the members of the intelligence community in the war against terrorism,” said a White House official of the report that he was purging the CIA of “disloyal” officials. “The suggestion [that he ordered a purge] is inaccurate.”
Another former CIA official who retains good contacts within the agency said that Goss and his top aides, who served on his staff when Goss was chairman of the House intelligence committee, believe the agency had relied too much over the years on liaison work with foreign intelligence agencies and had not done enough to develop its own intelligence collection system.
“Goss is not a believer in liaison work,” said this retired official. But, he said, the CIA’s “best intelligence really comes from liaison work. The CIA is simply not going to develop the assets [agents and case officers] that would meet the intelligence requirements.”
Goss brought with him many of his principal congressional aides, who bear a reputation for condescension and hostility to the CIA, as well as fierce partisanship. “Kostiw’s the best of the bunch,” says a retired senior official. “Words fail me to describe the rest of them.” And Goss didn’t just give them top positions in the agency, he invented new posts for them, as mediators between the DCI and the intelligence and operations directorates. “They are not positions that are rigorously defined in agency regulations,” observes Steven Aftergood, an intelligence policy expert with the Federation of American Scientists. “Rather, they are invested with whatever authority Goss wants to give them, which means they could be very important indeed.”
As his chief of staff and senior advisor for strategic programs, Goss brought two senior Republican House Intelligence Committee aides, Patrick Murray and Merrell Moorhead. Clashes with Murray led to Kappes’ departure on Monday. But some CIA officials are particularly concerned about Jay Jakub, a former GOP subcommittee staff director who’s now Goss’ nebulously titled senior advisor for operations and analysis. Jakub, a principal author of the June intelligence committee report, was a CIA analyst and case officer before serving as chief investigator on ultraconservative Rep. Dan Burton’s inquiry into Democratic campaign finance during the 1996 election. “He’s widely viewed as having very strong partisan views,” says one of Jakub’s former CIA colleagues. “Jay leaps too early. He acts on his views, and often doesn’t seem like a measured decision maker.” (Through a spokeswoman, Goss and his senior staff declined requests for interviews.)
Feeling any better about the future?