On Friday, Andrew Sullivan seemed relieved that Brown was being replaced by the Coast Guard's Vice Admiral Thad W. Allen. As much as I admire Andrew Sullivan, I definitely disagree with him on his call – he was too easily satisfied with far too little.
Brown was not fired. He was removed from the Gulf Region’s emergency operations. He is still the Director of FEMA. And presumably, he simply headed home to go to that Mexican restaurant and get his “stiff Margarita,” as has been widely quoted as saying.
Gee, you gotta wonder why he didn’t just go to Disney World.
He wasn't punished, he's been protected, taken out of harm's way and the media's way to hide out and lick his wounds. Meanwhile, he still gets the salary, the perks, and the authority of a director of major federal agency.
Unlike Sullivan, I’ve been a federal employee. So maybe that's why I view Brown's treatment very differently from the way Sullivan does.
I’ve seen the hammering my fellow feds have been taking for many years by this Administration – the color-coded scorecards on how well various agencies were meeting their missions (yup, security threats aren’t the only thing that comes color coded in this Administration – maybe they didn’t get enough crayons when they were young).
The President’s Management Agenda (PMA), as this color coded rating system is called, is a thinly disguised attempt to smear the federal government as inefficient and unresponsive to the public. By extension, it also implied that federal employees were lazy, incompetent, and unwilling to do their jobs effectively. All the better to reorganize the agencies and replace the workers with a top level of appointees politically loyal to Bush and to compete out the jobs of federal employees to private contractors who, it is claimed, can do everything so much better than the feds do it.
Oh, how this crew hates the bureaucracy – the Beast, as Grover Norquist calls it.
But a funny thing happened on the way to FEMA’s first disaster since 9/11.
It’s chief – a Bush political crony – failed miserably to help the people of the entire Gulf Coast.
In fact, after the major reorganization of the federal government, with FEMA losing its cabinet level status and coming under the new Department of Homeland Security, many of the most experienced top career officials departed for other jobs, leaving the less experienced to replace them and the political hacks at the top to flounder in a real-time disaster. This Washington Post article describes in frightening detail the lack of disaster planning experience the top ten FEMA executive level managers, all political cronies of the the Administration, had.
The sad thing is that FEMA is not the only federal agency to lose its best and brightest career professionals because of mismanagement and arrogance by the top level of political appointees. It’s happened throughout the federal government, especially in agencies that depend the most on well-educated and highly skilled professionals. Indeed, in everything from fudging reports on the true dangers of global warning to denying women adequate birth control protection (as recently happened with the FDA denying over the counter status to the “morning after” birth control pill for emergencies) the top tier of respected professional scientists, engineeers, and technical specialists have been departing the federal goverment in droves rather than see their reputations impugned by remaining silent as the Administration practices junk science, junk economics, and junk intelligence.
And Katrina finally ripped the façade off this Administration's pretensions. Their house of cards is being blown apart and torn to splinters like a Gulf Coast fishing shack by this hurricane.
One thing that is certain is that the removal of Michael Brown from all authority for the disaster recovery effort is no victory for those who demand good government and accountability at all levels of government, as Andrew Sullivan seemed to think that it was on Friday
In fact, it’s a defeat for those who actually want good government and true accountability from government employees from the top to the bottom, and for those who care deeply about the security of our nation in a real terrorist attack or natural disaster.
Accountability starts at the top. And the very best way to get good morale and improved performance from those at the lowest levels is to lead by example. But if you are dissatisfied with the government bureaucracy, ask yourself this question: with the examples of leaders like Bush and Brownie, do you really expect it to get better any time soon?