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Context of 'June 2004: FEMA Veteran Warns Congress of FEMA’s Deterioration'

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An Iranian diplomat has been maintaining secretive, “backchannel” contact with State Department official Hillary Mann for months; his efforts to reach out to the US government through Mann have increased since the 9/11 attacks (see September 11, 2001). In one meeting with the diplomat, in the Delegates’ Lounge of the United Nations, the diplomat tells Mann that Iran is ready to cooperate unconditionally with the US. Reporter John Richardson will later note that the statement has “seismic diplomatic implications.” Richardson will continue: “Unconditional talks are what the US had been demanding as a precondition to any official diplomatic contact between the US and Iran. And it would be the first chance since the Islamic revolution for any kind of rapprochement.” Mann will recall: “It was revolutionary. It could have changed the world.” Mann will say, “They specifically told me time and again that they were doing this because they understood the impact of this attack on the US, and they thought that if they helped us unconditionally, that would be the way to change the dynamic for the first time in 25 years.” When she discusses the meetings with a reporter in 2007, Mann will say, “As far as they’re concerned, the whole idea that there were talks is something I shouldn’t even be talking about.” (Richardson 10/18/2007)

After FEMA is incorporated into the Department of Homeland Security (see March 1, 2003), veteran FEMA employees complain of a massive “brain drain.” FEMA “has gone downhill within the department, drained of resources and leadership,” I.M. “Mac” Destler, a professor at the University of Maryland School of Public Policy, will tell the Washington Post shortly after the 2005 Hurricane Katrina disaster. At least one veteran FEMA staff member, Pleasant Mann, complains on the record about the changes FEMA is undergoing (see Mid-September 2004). (Hsu 9/9/2005) Local officials complain that FEMA’s new focus on terrorism threatens other necessary prevention programs. “With the creation of Homeland Security, [natural disaster prevention programs] have taken a backseat,” says Walter Maestri, emergency management director in Jefferson Parish. “To us, it is pretty obvious which is the greater threat. One is maybe, the other is when.” (Nussbaum 10/8/2004)

FEMA’s headquarters staff is forced to cancel disaster training exercises because of budget cuts, according to 16-year FEMA staff member Pleasant Mann. (Elliston 9/22/2004)

Pleasant Mann, a 16-year FEMA veteran who heads the agency’s government employee union, writes a letter to Congress describing how FEMA has changed under the Bush administration. “Over the past three-and-one-half years, FEMA has gone from being a model agency to being one where funds are being misspent, employee morale has fallen, and our nation’s emergency management capability is being eroded,” he writes. “Our professional staff [members] are being systematically replaced by politically connected novices and contractors.” (Elliston 9/22/2004)

Pleasant Mann, a 16-year FEMA veteran, says in an interview with the Independent Weekly that changes made to the agency by the Bush administration have so severely harmed FEMA staff morale that people are leaving “in droves.” Part of the problem, he says, has to do with the people Bush selected to run the agency. “The biggest frustration here is that we at FEMA have responded to disasters like Oklahoma City and 9/11, and here are people who haven’t responded to a kitchen fire telling us how to deal with terrorism. You know, there were a lot of people who fell down on the job on 9/11, but it wasn’t us… . Since last year, so many people have left who had developed most of our basic programs. A lot of the institutional knowledge is gone. Everyone who was able to retire has left, and then a lot of people have moved to other agencies.” Mann also complains that FEMA’s “priority is no longer on prevention.” FEMA’s merger into the Department of Homeland Security has made mitigation “the orphaned stepchild,” he says. (Elliston 9/22/2004)

According to a later interview with the New York Times, FEMA Director Mike Brown states that upon return to Baton Rouge from New Orleans, he has become concerned about the lack of coordinated response from Louisiana officials. “What do you need? Help me help you,” Brown said he asked them. “The response was like, ‘Let us find out,’ and then I never received specific requests for specific things that needed doing.” Bob Mann, Blanco’s Communications Director will assert, however, that during this period, Blanco becomes frustrated with Brown and FEMA for expecting itemized requests before they will do anything. According to Mann, “It was like walking into an emergency room bleeding profusely and being expected to instruct the doctors how to treat you.” (Kirkpatrick and Shane 9/15/2005)


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