Cronies, idealogues, and hacks…oh my.
Frank Rich on how the Bush administration is destroying the government from the inside:
Witness the nomination of Julie Myers as the new head of immigration and customs enforcement at the Homeland Security Department. Though the White House attacked the diplomat Joseph Wilson for nepotism because he undertook a single pro bono intelligence mission while his wife was at the C.I.A., it thought nothing of handing this huge job to a nepotistic twofer: Ms. Myers is the niece of Gen. Richard Myers and has just married the chief of staff for the homeland security
secretary, Michael Chertoff. Her qualifications for running an agency with more than 20,000 employees and a $4 billion budget include serving as an associate counsel under Kenneth Starr; in that job, she helped mastermind the costly and doomed prosecution of Susan McDougal, and was outwitted at every turn by the defense lawyer Mark Geragos.
Ms. Myers is only the latest example of Mr. Chertoff’s rolling the dice with Americans’ safety during his brief tenure in Homeland Security. After the bombings in London in July, he vowed to maximize his department’s “finite human and financial capital to attain the optimal state of preparedness.” Yet the very same day, the president nominated Tracy Henke as Homeland Security’s new executive director of the Office of State and Local Government Coordination and Preparedness. Ms. Henke, a John Ashcroft political appointee at the Justice Department, has since been unmasked as an Enron-style spinner of numbers. As Eric Lichtblau of The Times reported in August, it was she who ordered the highly regarded nonpartisan head of the Bureau of Justice Statistics, Lawrence Greenfeld, to delete a reference to politically embarrassing data in a government press release for a report on racial profiling. When Mr. Greenfeld complained, he was demoted.
Imagine Ms. Henke, in her Homeland Security job, having sway over press releases about our disaster readiness. There is likely to be nothing but good news until it’s too late. But if the hiring of the likes of Ms. Henke, Ms. Myers and Mr. Safavian is half of the equation in Enron governance, the other half is the punishing of veteran civil servants like Mr. Greenfeld for doing their jobs honestly. Even as it fills its ranks with Abramoff golf-junket partners, political flunkies and underemployed relatives, the administration silences those who, like Sherron Watkins at Enron, might blow the whistle on any Kozlowski or Ebbers or Rigas fleecing or betraying the taxpayers. Three weeks before Mr. Safavian’s arrest, the Army Corps of Engineers demoted another procurement official, Bunnatine Greenhouse, who was a 20-year veteran in her field. Her crime was not obstructing justice but pursuing it by vehemently questioning irregularities in the awarding of some $7 billion worth of no-bid contracts in Iraq to the Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg Brown & Root.
Ms. Greenhouse and Mr. Greenfeld are only two of the many whistle-blowers done in by this administration so far. (Congressman Rahm Emanuel, Democrat of Illinois, lists nine on his Web site.) Even top government officials who are not whistle-blowers, merely truth-tellers, are axed. Lawrence Lindsey, the president’s chief economic adviser, was pushed out after he accurately projected the cost of the Iraq war at $100 billion to $200 billion. Gen. Eric Shinseki, the Army chief of staff, was shunted aside after he accurately estimated the number of required troops (“several hundred thousand”) for securing Iraq. Paul Wolfowitz and Donald Rumsfeld, who presented rosy scenarios of getting the job done with Iraqi oil income and low troop deployments, stayed on to bungle the war.
Whomever wins in 2008 will be lucky if the country is only described as a “fixer-upper”. The looting of the treasury combined with the dismantling of oversight and protections is going to leave us looking like a burned-out crackhouse.