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The GOP are incompetent

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FEMA, still completely clueless. This CNN story by Abbie Boudreau and Scott Zamost, via John Cole:

FEMA gave away about $85 million in household goods meant for Hurricane Katrina victims, a CNN investigation has found. These items, stored by FEMA, were meant for Katrina victims but were given to state and federal agencies.

The material, from basic kitchen goods to sleeping necessities, sat in warehouses for two years before the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s giveaway to federal and state agencies this year.

James McIntyre, FEMA’s acting press secretary, said that FEMA was spending more than $1 million a year to store the material and that another agency wanted the warehouses torn down, so “we needed to vacate them.”

“Upon review of our assets and our need to continue to store them, we determined that they were excess to FEMA’s needs; therefore, they are being excessed from FEMA’s inventory,” McIntyre wrote in an e-mail.

He declined a request for an on-camera interview, telling CNN the giveaway was “not news.”

Photos from one of the facilities in Fort Worth, Texas, show pallet after pallet of cots, cleansers, first-aid kits, coffee makers, camp stoves and other items stacked to the ceiling. Video Watch dismay over “out of touch” FEMA »

FEMA said some of the items were donations from companies after Katrina, but most were purchased in the field as “starter kits” for people living in trailers provided by the agency. And even though the stocks were offered to state agencies after FEMA decided to get rid of them, one of the states that passed was Louisiana.

Martha Kegel, the head of a New Orleans nonprofit agency that helps find homes for those still displaced by the storm, said she was shocked to learn about the existence of the goods and the government giveaway.

“These are exactly the items that we are desperately seeking donations of right now: basic kitchen household supplies,” said Kegel, executive director of Unity of Greater New Orleans. “These are the very things that we are seeking right now. FEMA, in fact, refers homeless clients to us to house them. How can we house them if we don’t have basic supplies?” Watch the great FEMA giveaway »

Kegel’s group works with FEMA and other local organizations to rehouse victims of Katrina, the 2005 hurricane that flooded New Orleans and killed more than 1,800 people along the Gulf Coast. Community groups say thousands of people are still living in abandoned buildings in the city, though fewer than 100 people remain housed in tents.

Kegel said FEMA was told in regular meetings that Unity was desperate for household supplies and that the group has been forced to beg for donations. But she said FEMA never told Unity and other community groups that it had tens of millions of dollars worth of brand-new items meant for storm victims.

She said she learned of it from CNN, which found that those items never made it to people such as Debra Reed.

“An honest person like me didn’t get nothing,” said Reed, 54, who recently moved from a tent beneath a New Orleans bridge to a home with the help of Kegel’s group. “I’m gonna turn, ’cause I’m gonna cry. I didn’t get nothing. I fought to get my money, but they wouldn’t give it to me. So I ended up going under the bridge.”

FEMA confirmed that it had kept the merchandise in storage for the past two years and then gave it away to cities, schools, fire departments and nonprofit agencies such as food banks. In all, General Services Administration records show, FEMA gave away 121 truckloads of material.

McIntyre said that most of the items given away were not “standard-issue type supplies” that FEMA would have distributed after other disasters. He said that using the GSA, which manages federal property, to get rid of those stockpiles was “standard process.”

Asked whether FEMA believed that Katrina victims no longer needed the items, McIntyre wrote: “If the state did not request the supplies, then FEMA would not know.” Video Watch Kegel describe “the needs are just overwhelming” »

Pallets at the Fort Worth warehouse were piled high with boxes of buckets, boots, cleansers, mops and brooms. There were stacks of tents, lanterns and camp stoves for people still displaced, as well as clothing, bedding, plates and utensils.

Meanwhile, Kegel said, Unity’s clients can take only “one fork, one spoon, one knife; they can only take one plate. We don’t have enough to go around.”

But FEMA said the items were no longer needed in the stricken region. So it declared them “federal surplus” and gave them away.

Federal agencies such as the Bureau of Prisons, Postal Service and Border Patrol got first dibs on the material when FEMA started giving it away. Other agencies that received items include the National Guard, U.S. Marshals Service, the Air Force and Navy and the departments of Agriculture, Veterans Affairs and Homeland Security, according to a list the GSA provided to CNN.

These items also were offered to all states — yet Louisiana, where most of the people displaced by the storm live, passed on taking any of them.

John Medica, director of the Louisiana Federal Property Assistance Agency in Baton Rouge, said he was unaware that Katrina victims still had a need for the household supplies.

“We didn’t have anybody out there who told us they wanted it,” Medica said.

Instead, 16 other states took the free items.

Kegel said she could not understand how Medica could not be aware of the need in the New Orleans area.

She said she had not heard of the agency and was not registered with them, but after CNN’s interview, the agency contacted her about registering Unity of Greater New Orleans so it could qualify for available supplies in the future.

Written by Leisureguy

11 June 2008 at 5:48 pm

8 Responses

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  1. Hey LeisureGuy, I’ve got news for you: FEMA tried to give these supplies to the state of Louisiana, but the state refused them. How does this make FEMA “clueless”? And let’s not even get on the fact that FEMA held these supplies in storage for two years even though they were free for the asking by the state of Louisiana. Did you not read the story before shooting your mouth off? And do you somehow believe the GOP runs FEMA? Geez, grow a brain!



    13 June 2008 at 7:22 am

  2. The current Administration is run by members of the GOP: the President is a Republican and his appointments reflect his party membership. I’m surprised that you’re unaware of this. Chertoff (HSD head) and Brown (head of FEMA at the time of Katrina) were both staunch Republicans, but the ultimate responsibility for the Administration belongs to the President (“The buck stops here”).

    If you will read the story, you’ll see that FEMA did not notify the state until FEMA was forced to give the items away: that is, FEMA kept the items in storage (at $1 million a year) for two years, apparently without informing anyone. And the story also makes clear that, though the state agency that was contacted did not want the items, many NGOs working in Louisiana DID want the items and needed them—NGOs of which FEMA was fully aware, and was referring people to. But FEMA never offered those organizations any of the supplies.

    You may have missed this passage in the story:

    Kegel said FEMA was told in regular meetings that Unity was desperate for household supplies and that the group has been forced to beg for donations. But she said FEMA never told Unity and other community groups that it had tens of millions of dollars worth of brand-new items meant for storm victims.

    Anyone—except perhaps you—would see that FEMA failed in its mission to help those who needed help following the storm.



    13 June 2008 at 9:28 am

  3. OK, let’s take this one little step at a time. Yes, I’m very much aware that many members of the current administration are also members of the GOP. Where in my reply did I express ignorance of this? Oh, I get it — you’re being trite! OK, very well. Anyway, just because many members of the current administration are also members of the GOP doesn’t mean that the GOP runs FEMA or any other government agency. It would be the same as concluding that the Odd Fellows run city hall since many workers in city hall are members of Odd Fellows.

    Where did you ever get the idea that FEMA kept its storage of relief supplies a state secret?? That’s not in the story. C’mon!! Those supplies have been doled out since the aftermath of the disaster. Providing supplies is part of what FEMA does! Everybody with half a brain knows that FEMA has disaster supplies! Don’t you think it would have been a headline story if the state of Louisiana had requested disaster relief supplies and FEMA had responded that they didn’t have any more??

    But, let’s suppose that FEMA did keep the existence of these supplies a secret until it was forced to give them away. So what?? Why didn’t the state of Louisiana, at that time, take them?? That’s not FEMA’s fault.

    And let me educate you on how FEMA works. First of all, FEMA provides disaster relief in the form of loans, grants, equipment, housing, and supplies. With respect to supplies, it is up to the states to distribute them to people, not FEMA. The state, however, can designate certain NGOs to act in its behalf in distributing supplies. In these cases, the state takes the supplies, gives them to the NGO, and the NGO distributes. The one NGO mentioned in the article, Unity, was not registered to distribute federal disaster relief supplies. And contrary to your implication that Unity expressed a desire to have the supplies and was refused by FEMA, the truth is that Unity only spoke up when notified by CNN that FEMA had given away the supplies after the state of Louisian refused them. Had the state of Louisiana been halfway funtional, they would have known to accept the supplies and distribute them directly or through NGOs.

    Bottom line: the state of Louisiana and only Louisiana, not FEMA, must bear responsibility for losing these supplies, because it refused them even when told that FEMA would be giving them to other states and organizations.

    It appears, LeisureGuy, that in your zeal to blame Bush for any and everything, you didn’t let a few facts get in your way.



    13 June 2008 at 11:26 am

  4. You’re certainly correct that the RNC doesn’t manage the current administration. But, in general, a political party will take credit or blame for the successes or failures respectively of its members (in Congress or in the Administration). This is not something new. Certainly the many failures of the Bush Administration and the obstructionism of the GOP members of Congress will have an effect at the polls this fall. I’m amazed that I must explain this.

    The International Order of Odd Fellows is not a political party, by the way. Didn’t you already know that? But if City Hall is in the hands of a particular political party, it’s generally said that that party runs City Hall.

    I don’t think “trite” means what you seem to think it means.

    One thing I’ve noticed in discussions with conservatives is that they will deliberately misunderstand what’s being said, so that constant correction and explanation is required.

    I have no idea why the Lousiana state agency in the story didn’t take the supplies—indeed, I don’t know the terms of the offer. If the offer was, “We have a lot of supplies available—fork over a million dollars for storage charges and they’re yours,” the agency may not have had the funds available. We can speculate on reasons why the offer was refused, but since we don’t know what the offer was, speculation is pointless.

    What we do know is that the NGOs did want the supplies and were not told by FEMA that the supplies were available. That’s in the story.

    I don’t consider the state of Louisiana blameless, BTW, but given FEMA’s track record in responding to Katrina, I’m inclined to think that much of the blame is theirs. And to the extent that it is, the blame is Bush’s. He’s the president.



    13 June 2008 at 11:48 am

  5. I think you’re the one who is deliberately misunderstanding what’s being said. Witness: your “misunderstanding” about my knowledge of what the president’s political party is; and, your “misunderstanding” about my knowledge of the political “blame” game. Your assumption that you have to explain these very elementary and obvious political realities is, in my opinion, a deliberate misunderstanding on your part.

    Now, to your point about why the state of Louisiana didn’t take the supplies. The story very clearly states:

    John Medica, director of the Louisiana Federal Property Assistance Agency in Baton Rouge, said he was unaware that Katrina victims still had a need for the household supplies.

    “We didn’t have anybody out there who told us they wanted it,” Medica said.

    We know why the supplies were refused — it’s right there in the story. The story very plainly illlustrates that the point person for the state of Louisiana was unaware that victims still needed supplies, therefore he refused them. Why you choose to cover for him by bringing up speculation about storage fees is specious at best.

    Had Mr. Medica chosen to accept the supplies, there would be no problem here. Period. End of story.

    To say that FEMA shares “much of the blame” for this particular SNAFU because of their track record is to ignore the facts right before your eyes. But don’t let those pesky facts get in your way, OK? 🙂



    13 June 2008 at 12:23 pm

  6. Well, you have a point: I think I was responding in kind to your initial comments along the lines of “grow a brain” and the like. Perhaps we can elevate the discussion. I do think that your example using the International Order of Odd Fellows is a red herring: there’s a major difference between a political party and a fraternal organization.

    And you’re right: it does look, on reflection, that the fault in part lies with the state of Louisiana. But think of what a proactive FEMA organization, determined to achieve their mission, might have done: for example, they could have blanketed Louisiana with public service announcements telling the public and the relief organizations what supplies were available and how to secure those supplies: whom to approach in the state government, how to file requests, and so on.

    In fact, I think FEMA (and the GOP in general) do not want government agencies and organizations to work—and in particular, they do not want government money or aid going to the poor. This pattern is seen repeatedly—not merely in legislation or in obstructing legislation, but also in reducing agency budgets, putting in charge of agencies those who oppose the work of the agency, and the like.

    With that overwhelming pattern in mind, I did over-extend my conclusion. I continue to believe, however, that FEMA did not work very hard or very imaginately to accomplish their mission. And I continue to hold Bush, as the head of the Executive, responsible. YMMV.



    13 June 2008 at 1:08 pm

  7. I really like your idea for a proactive FEMA! Would that all government agencies and policy makers practice proactivity! Unfortunately, Americans are IMHO the very antithesis of proactivity. We don’t plan for much at all, nor do we seek to cover contingencies. We are, I think, a culture steeped in reaction, not proaction. That’s part of the reason why we are so dependent on foreign oil; that’s why we’ve raided the SSA trust fund; that’s why we so cavalierly spend into the red. In short, we don’t take care of any problem until it bites us in the ass. And then, the first thing we do is try to blame someone. It is this type of culture that leads us to expect the government to take care of everything. Who knows if PSAs would have averted this SNAFU? And should it take blanketing the state with PSAs to get state bureaucrats to do their jobs?

    I don’t share your belief that the GOP wants government agencies to fail, or that they don’t want government money or aid going to the poor. On the other hand, most conservatives are in favor of economic policies that do not damage or degrade the free market economy. In some cases, this means limiting entitlement spending. But when it comes to disaster relief, I don’t think the GOP has any problem with helping those who are suffering.

    Yes, hurricane Katrina was a terrible and tragic event. Many people suffered and some died. A number of government agencies failed the victims of this disaster. One of those was FEMA. But also front and center we have to acknowledge that both the city of New Orleans and the state of Louisiana, as front-line responders, failed as well. May we never again see the scale of human suffering we saw in New Orleans!



    13 June 2008 at 2:54 pm

  8. Many Americans are proactive—the healthy entrepreneurial culture is evidence of that. Politicians and bureaucrats—and those who work in many large corporations—tend not to be proactive because the cost of a mistake or failure is many times greater than the gain from a success. Entrepreneurs are generally accustomed to failure and, until recently, could bounce back from bankruptcy. However, the overhaul of the bankruptcy laws has made that considerably more difficult.

    I have a post I’ve been working on to explain my view that the GOP wants government agencies to fail. Certainly, the current administration has worked systematically to undermine the effectiveness of many agencies, from the EPA to the FDA to the DoA to the Consumer Product Safety Commission to … well, many agencies. Often, as I noted, the current administration has appointed to head agencies people who strongly oppose the agency’s mission or, in the case of agencies that regulate various industries, lobbyists for or leaders of those industries.

    So far as helping with disasters, the AIDS program in Africa has been crippled by ideological opposition to condoms, sex education, and the like. The current administration has a one-string banjo on that issue: abstinence. Regardless of studies showing the failures of the policy, the policy continues.

    Oh, well. I don’t want to start another discussion. I do think a good government agency looks at its mission and works out ways to achieve the mission and the agency goals, rather than the somewhat passive-aggressive approach FEMA took in Louisiana (not to exempt from blame the benighted state agency that turned down the help).

    UPDATE: This column by Paul Krugman discusses this very issue (the effect of the GOP on government agencies).



    13 June 2008 at 3:06 pm

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