A Monument to Disaster

When all the post-mortems over the incredible FUBAR called local, state and federal response to the Hurricane Katrina tragedy publish their last word, one sad fact will remain: You can’t protect people with giant federal bureaucracies.

Among the many missteps and mistakes that will forever haunt the failed presidency of George W. Bush, creation of the giant, and ineffective, Department of Homeland Security will stand forever as a monument to madness.

Most of the fingers pointed at the ineptness of federal response to the Katrina tragedy are aimed at the Federal Emergency Management Agency but FEMA lost any effectiveness once the Bush administration chose to transfer it into the black hole called DHS. Doing so destroyed a tight little federal agency whose sole responsibility was to respond quickly in times of national emergency and aid victims of hurricanes, tornados, earthquakes and floods.

Then Bush screwed up even more with the cronyism that has marked his lackluster Presidential career – installing a hack like Michael Brown as head of FEMA. Brown’s so-called credentials for the job included getting canned from an Arabian horse owners association and having a connected college roommate. Bush likes to hire fools who failed at their previous jobs. This is the same President who picked John Ashcroft to be attorney general after he lost a Senate re-election bid to a dead man.

But FEMA’s problems go much deeper than just having an idiot as its boss. Originally created to replace the civil defense agencies of the cold war era, FEMA became a tight-knit, autonomous government unit with the power and ability to respond quickly in times of natural disaster. When hurricanes struck Florida, FEMA trucks were first on the scene. When tornados leveled Midwestern towns, FEMA arrived quickly and set up shop.

That changed after 9-11 when America turned into a police state and the Bush administration created the nation’s largest – and least effective – bureaucracy to run it, bundling FEMA and 21 other smaller federal agencies into the Department of Homeland Security. Bush wasn’t alone in this madness. He had the help of both Republicans and Democrats in Congress who voted to approve his bad idea.

FEMA fell far down the organizational ladder, lost funding and personnel, and became just a cog in a bureaucratic machine that has neither the organization nor the ability to respond quickly in times of emergency.

While FEMA should, and could, have been the federal government’s first responders to New Orleans and other parts of the Gulf Coast, it couldn’t because it no longer has the ability to operate on its own. It must wait for approval to go through the many layers of a federal bureaucracy that cannot, and will not, respond quickly to an emergency.

And if the bloated Department of Homeland Security cannot protect American citizens from a hurricane that gave us plenty of advance warning before roaring ashore last week, how in the hell can we expect it to protect this country the next time a terrorist attacks without warning.

The sad truth is that it can’t – and won’t. What we saw in New Orleans this past week is just a preview of what will follow the next time a terrorist organization pulls off a large-scale attack on American soil. Creating a useless monolith like the Department of Homeland Security doesn’t protect Americans. It only protects political jobs, wastes enormous sums of taxpayer dollars and puts every citizen of this country at greater risk.

FEMA screwed the pooch when it came time to prove it could do its job but the real failure lies with the people who call the shots at DHS and the path for blame for creating this monument to disaster routes through the office of every member of Congress to voted to create it and then stops at the desk in the Oval Office at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.