FEMA THEN AND NOW….So what does James Lee Witt, former director of FEMA in the 90s, think of his agency’s response to Hurricane Katrina?

In the 1990s, in planning for a New Orleans nightmare scenario, the federal government figured it would pre-deploy nearby ships with pumps to remove water from the below-sea-level city and have hospital ships nearby, said James Lee Witt, who was FEMA director under President Clinton.

Federal officials said a hospital ship would leave from Baltimore on Friday.

“These things need to be planned and prepared for; it just doesn’t look like it was,” said Witt, a former Arkansas disaster chief who won bipartisan praise on Capitol Hill during his tenure.

Read the rest of the story for a blow-by-blow indictment of the weak federal response to Katrina. FEMA just isn’t what it used to be.

UPDATE: Here’s a story on Bush’s mismanagement of FEMA that ran in the Independent Weekly last September:

Among emergency specialists, “mitigation” ? the measures taken in advance to minimize the damage caused by natural disasters ? is a crucial part of the strategy to save lives and cut recovery costs.
But since 2001, key federal disaster mitigation programs, developed over many years, have been slashed and tossed aside. FEMA’s Project Impact, a model mitigation program created by the Clinton administration, has been canceled outright.

….[In 2001], President Bush appointed a close aide, Joe Allbaugh, to be the agency’s new director….The White House quickly launched a government-wide effort to privatize public services, including key elements of disaster management. Bush’s first budget director, Mitch Daniels, spelled out the philosophy in remarks at an April 2001 conference: “The general idea ? that the business of government is not to provide services, but to make sure that they are provided ? seems self-evident to me,” he said.

In a May 15, 2001, appearance before a Senate appropriations subcommittee, Allbaugh signaled that the new, stripped-down approach would be applied at FEMA as well. “Many are concerned that federal disaster assistance may have evolved into both an oversized entitlement program and a disincentive to effective state and local risk management,” he said. “Expectations of when the federal government should be involved and the degree of involvement may have ballooned beyond what is an appropriate level.”

Italics mine. There’s much, much more in this deeply reported story. Read the whole thing to get a sickening sense of the disastrous effect that the Bush administration’s glorification of conservative ideology over managerial competence has had on FEMA’s workforce, its morale, and its ability to get things done.

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