Tags: FEMA | Disaster | Agency

FEMA - Disaster of an Agency

Monday, 12 September 2005 12:00 AM

Much of the information in this column comes from a heavily researched article in the September 1999 issue of The American Spectator, written by James Bovard. Still more pertinent data come from an August 1997 newspaper column by Jack Anderson and Jan Moller - laying out the incredible waste associated with "relief" money.

Not surprisingly, with the advent of FEMA, the number of national disasters began to balloon. However, it was not until Hurricane Andrew in August of 1992 that FEMA began to morph into what it now is.

As the Anderson columns points out, a lot of money went to the victims of Andrew, but politicians were beginning to see the potential in natural disasters. A community college got a new parking lot. Miami Beach got new art deco lifeguard stands. The then-governor of Florida, Lawton Chiles, obtained $25 million for a new prison that had nothing to do with the hurricane.

And, shades of Katrina - get this: with another Bush sitting in the Oval Office, and Andrew just having battered Florida, Gov. Chiles refused to request federal aid. Transportation Secretary Andrew Card had to beg Chiles to ask for the aid, while 160,000 people were homeless and 82,000 businesses were ruined. Governor Chiles - meet Governor Blanco.

The request was finally made, but FEMA had trouble getting untracked. For several days, people in Florida were left without food and water. Some residents put up signs with anti-Bush sentiments such as "What do George Bush and Hurricane Andrew have in common? They're both natural disasters."

Oh, and Bush's FEMA director, Wallace Stickney, appeared to have gotten the job because he was a neighbor of John Sununu's. The more things change, huh?

But then came Bill Clinton, and unlike George H. W. Bush, he had no intention of continuing FEMA as a bungling operation. In a current column, the nation's blindest old bat, Molly Ivins, puts it this way: "FEMA was once considered one of our better federal agencies." And after informing her readers that conservatives had been trying to hack away at FEMA, "the Clinton administration did work hard at rebuilding the agency."

Oh, so?

Ivins' vision of a caring and benevolent Clinton working to protect disaster victims from the axe of the cruel republicans flies in the face of facts. Clinton saw disasters as opportunities to hand out money and build good will for future elections. His FEMA head, James Lee Witt, was quickly elevated to cabinet status for higher visibility. By the way, it was Witt who once stated that church burnings in the South "have struck at the very fabric of our nation" before those burnings turned out to be fiction.

In 1993, his first year in office, President Clinton set a new record by declaring fifty-eight disasters. By February of 1996, Clinton was bragging that FEMA could simply set up an 800 number and victims could see government checks arriving within days.

The idea of handing out checks picked up steam. Before FEMA, blizzards were not considered major disasters by the federal government, but with Clinton in office, snow became a reason to dole out cash. One winter Clinton named 16 states as major disasters due to snow. And after the Northridge earthquake in, FEMA swung into action, handing out some 400,000 checks averaging $2,800.

Investor's Business Daily reported in May 1994 that FEMA was cutting checks to homeowners who were fully covered by insurance. Of course, California is an important state to democrats; and under Clinton, FEMA rented office space in Pasadena and found ways to award grants to the state even when there had been no disaster. That included a $264 million giveaway to Los Angeles for the city's government buildings and hospitals.

"Disasters are very political events," said James Witt during congressional testimony on April 30, 1996. And so they are. FEMA, created by Carter, reigned in to some extent under Reagan, bungled by Bush, exploited by Clinton, and now managed by another Bush, is in dire need of reform.

Indeed, if nonpartisan hearings were possible, we might conclude that federal bureaucracies - no matter how good intentions are - cannot respond without bungling, political opportunism or both.

There are hundreds of good people working for FEMA right now whose only goal is to help the victims of Hurricane Katrina. But this is an agency that began in shambles, mangled its first major test, and was turned into a virtual campaign office by Bill Clinton. Today, FEMA is at the center of efforts by Jesse Jackson and others to use the latest disaster for race baiting and by leftists such as Nancy Pelosi to destroy a presidency. The term "disaster" seems quite fitting.


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Much of the information in this column comes from a heavily researched article in the September 1999 issue of The American Spectator, written by James Bovard. Still more pertinent data come from an August 1997 newspaper column by Jack Anderson and Jan Moller - laying out...
Monday, 12 September 2005 12:00 AM
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