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Context of 'Mid-September 2004: Bush’s Changes to FEMA Have Demoralized Staff, FEMA Veteran Says'

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In a memo to FEMA Director Joe M. Allbaugh, the agency’s inspector general relays concerns over the Bush administration’s proposal to merge FEMA, along with several other agencies, into the newly-constituted new Department of Homeland Security. “There are concerns of FEMA losing its identity as an agency that is quick to respond to all hazards and disasters,” the inspector general writes. [Independent Weekly, 9/22/2004]

Entity Tags: Joseph M. Allbaugh, Federal Emergency Management Agency, US Department of Homeland Security

Timeline Tags: Hurricane Katrina

FEMA is merged into the Emergency and Response Directorate of the Department of Homeland Security. Michael D. Brown, the agency’s new head (see March 1, 2003), assures skeptics that the revamped agency will be “FEMA on steroids.” [Independent Weekly, 9/22/2004] FEMA’s Cabinet status disappears as it becomes one of 22 government agencies to be consolidated into DHS. According to the Washington Post,“For a time… even its name was slated to vanish and become simply the directorate of emergency preparedness and response until then-DHS Secretary Tom Ridge relented.” [Washington Post, 9/4/2005]

Entity Tags: US Department of Homeland Security, Michael D. Brown, Federal Emergency Management Agency

Timeline Tags: Hurricane Katrina

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). [Washington Post, 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.” [Philadelphia Inquirer, 10/8/2004]

Entity Tags: Federal Emergency Management Agency, Michael D. Brown, US Department of Homeland Security

Timeline Tags: Hurricane Katrina

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

Entity Tags: Federal Emergency Management Agency

Timeline Tags: Hurricane Katrina

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.” [Independent Weekly, 9/22/2004]

Entity Tags: Pleasant Mann, Federal Emergency Management Agency, Bush administration (43)

Timeline Tags: Hurricane Katrina

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. [Independent Weekly, 9/22/2004]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Federal Emergency Management Agency, US Department of Homeland Security, Pleasant Mann

Timeline Tags: Hurricane Katrina

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.” [New York Times, 9/15/2005]

Entity Tags: Kathleen Babineaux Blanco, Michael D. Brown, Federal Emergency Management Agency

Timeline Tags: Hurricane Katrina

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