09 September 2005

The Price of Partisanship

More criticism that top FEMA officials were Bush political appointments

Last Updated Fri, 09 Sep 2005 11:48:00 EDT
CBC News

As rescue workers prepare to speed up the process of retrieving the dead and New Orleans police are soon expected to begin removing the thousands of people still believed to be holding out in the city, the Washington Post reported Friday that President Bush chose unqualified political supporters rather than disaster experts to head the agency leading the relief effort.

The death toll from Hurricane Katrina topped 300 but is expected to climb higher. 25,000 body bags have been shipped to the area. And the dark-brown water poisoned by submerged bodies, bacteria, gasoline, oil, chemicals and debris is slowly falling. A fifth of the city's 75 major drainage pumps are back in operation.

The Washington Post reported Friday that five of the top eight officials at FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, had little experience in handling disasters and owed their jobs to their political ties to Bush. Further, the Post reports that as political operatives took the top jobs, professionals and experts in hurricanes and disasters left the agency.

The director of FEMA, Michael Brown, already under fire for his performance as the Hurricane Katrina disaster unfolded, came under further pressure when Time magazine reported that his official biography, released by the White House at the time of his nomination exaggerated his experience in disaster relief.

Brown was a friend of former Bush campaign director Joe Allbaugh, the previous FEMA head. Brown had also headed an Arabian horse association. Last week, as criticism of his response to the disaster grew, Bush gave Michael Brown a public vote of confidence when he said, "Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job."

Brown's biography on the FEMA website said he had once served as an "assistant city manager with emergency services oversight". Time magazine quoted an official in Edmond, Oklahoma as saying the job was actually "assistant to the city manager" with little responsibility. Time also said Brown padded his academic accomplishments.

In response to the report on Time's Web site, FEMA issued a statement that took issue with elements related to an unofficial biography and described his job in Edmond as "assistant to the city manager".

A Pew Research Centre poll said President Bush's approval rating fell to 40 per cent, down four points since July, to the lowest point Pew has recorded. The poll found that 67 per cent of Americans thought Bush could have done more to speed up relief efforts and only 28 per cent believed he did all he could.

To make matters more difficult for Bush, Colin Powell, the former U.S. secretary of state criticized the disaster response by all levels of government in an interview on ABC's 20/20 to be broadcast tonight.

"There was more than enough warning over time about the dangers to New Orleans. Not enough was done. I don't think advantage was taken of the time that was available to us, and I don't know why.

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