>Most Nevadans were more than a bit perplexed at the Bush Administration’s 2006 decision to cut Las Vegas, NV from the “endangered species” list of likely terrorist targets. Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) was, in fact, calling for Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff’s head a day after the government dropped Las Vegas from the cities considered “potential high-risk targets eligible for special anti-terrorism grants.” [LVRJ] After Chertoff tried to defend the ill-advised list of 35 locations selected by some sort of fancy computer model, Reid dismissed the Secretary’s efforts to sound competent by saying: “He did a lousy job on Katrina.” [TL] One would think that a combination of the flap over protection spending, the investigations in the aftermath of Hurricanes Rita and Katrina, and the normal level of wisdom an official should absorb with time and experience, that Chertoff’s shop would be capable of designing a national emergency response plan based on the experiences with the target list development, Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and the continuing efforts to get ‘ground zero’ restored. It didn’t.
In fact, in trying to develop a national emergency response “blueprint,” the Bush administration has done just exactly those things that have gotten it in trouble before. Like the Bourbon kings of old, Team Bush, never forgets and never learns.
One paragraph into the Washington Post article today, the source of the problem becomes crystal clear, and it’s nothing we haven’t noticed before: “State and local officials in charge of responding to disasters say that their input in shaping the National Response Plan was ignored in recent months by senior White House and Department of Homeland Security officials, despite calls by congressional investigators for a shared overhaul of disaster planning in the United States.”
Sound familiar? It should. Don’t we recall that when it came time to plan for the operations in Iraq the advice from General Shinsheki, Zinni, and others was ignored in favor of the “senior White House officials,” and the Secretary of Defense. Intelligence was stovepiped through the Office of Special Plans rather than via the usual channels. The carefully compiled and analyzed 16 volumes of advice on post war Iraq planning were ignored as “too academic.” [CD]
The Bush Team decided to rewrite the national emergency response plan in secret. What else is new? “...a draft of the revised plan released to state officials last week marks a step backward because its authors did not set requirements or consult with field operators nationwide who will use it to request federal aid, adjust state and county plans, and train workers.” [WaPo]
Like the so-called “strategy” for the occupation of Iraq, the new draft for a national response to emergencies is not a plan. The Alabama emergency management director said, “I don’t have any problems with a framework . . . but it’s not a plan . . . and it’s not national. Who are we fooling here?” The answer: No one.
Similar to the endless rationalizations of the Iraq occupation “plan,” the Bush Administration seems to be putting more effort into escaping accountability than into addressing the problems. “Federal officials, Ashwood (OK EMC) said, appear to be trying to create a legalistic document to shield themselves from responsibility for future disasters and to shift blame to states. “It seems that the Katrina federal legacy is one of minimizing exposure for the next event and ensuring future focus is centered on state and local preparedness,” he said.” If there is one thing at which the Bush Administration has demonstrated its talents, it is avoiding accountability. Nothing is ever the fault of this inept and often incompetent administration.
We’ve seen this most recently when the reports became widely publicized that 190,000 assault rifles “went missing” in Iraq. However, with the Bush administration there’s always an excuse, on this matter General Petraeus sought to explain away the issue saying, “From a practical standpoint, Petraeus added, it was more important to get the weapons to the Iraqis as they started to enter the fight against a strong insurgency than it was to keep meticulous records.” [WaPo] You couldn’t do both? We managed to do it in Kosovo. Why not Iraq? Yes, right, in Iraq the Bush Administration was in charge.
The term “myopic” has come up more than once when critics of the Administration seek to characterize its planning processes. The Administration’s instance on emphasizing counter-terrorism to the exclusion of nearly all else has been discussed in terms of Justice Department activities, and those of the FBI. Kathleen J. Tierney, Director of the Natural Hazards Center, Boulder, Colorado, told the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee that a “9/12 mindset” was informing planning, including “…a myopic focus on terrorism as the only physical threat of any significance to the nation. It was marked by a militaristic, command and control mindset that encouraged secrecy rather than transparency in extreme event preparedness.” Tierney’s advice sounds remarkably similar to that of Nevada and other officials who decried the omissions on the endangered target list, “… efforts must also be risk and vulnerability based…we have all the tools we need to understand our nation’s vulnerability to hazards. What are lacking are comprehensive vulnerability based loss reduction programs.” [KT-test] Translation: What we don’t have is a realistic, workable, plan.
Take all the credit, deflect all the blame: As in the case of planning for the reconstruction of Iraq, the dismal response to that devastating hurricane season, and the “It’s a Minnesota pot-hole problem” categorization of the I35W bridge disaster, the Administrations predilection for secrecy and centralization is getting in the way of the nation’s need for competency and collaboration. “John R. Harrald, a professor at George Washington University’s Institute for Crisis, Disaster and Risk Management, cautioned that shutting out state and local voices during the plan’s preparation would be ill-advised. He said that the administration appears “to be guided by a desire to ensure centralized control of what is an inherently decentralized process. . . . Response to catastrophic events requires collaboration and trust in a broad network of organizations.” [WaPo]
No collaboration, no trust, no alliance building, no real planning, broadly characterized, vague, and politicized frameworks designed to minimize the Bush Administration’s responsibility for anything. This would be just an interesting foray into analyzing the Bush Administration’s modus operandi — except that hurricane season is upon us.
Testimony: Albert Ashwood, President, National Emergency Management Association, Director, Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, July 31, 2007 (pdf)
Testimony: Kathleen Tierney, Director, Natural Hazards Center, Boulder, CO House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, July 31, 2007
House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform hearing “FEMA preparedness in 2007 and beyond” July 31, 2007