Hurricane Response Both Sucks and Blows

Everyone in Florida has been scratching their heads since last summer’s hurricanes at the news that Miami-Dade was getting such a large share of FEMA recovery funds. All four hurricanes pretty much missed that area by miles.

A story in the South Florida Sun Sentinel, headlined, “State records show Bush re-election concerns played part in FEMA aid” sheds some light on the subject.

“As the second hurricane in less than a month bore down on Florida last fall, a federal consultant predicted a “huge mess” that could reflect poorly on President Bush and suggested that his re-election staff be brought in to minimize any political liability, records show.

Two weeks later, a Florida official summarizing the hurricane response wrote that the Federal Emergency Management Agency was handing out housing assistance ‘to everyone who needs it without asking for much information of any kind.’

The records are contained in hundreds of pages of Gov. Jeb Bush’s storm-related e-mails initially requested by the South Florida Sun-Sentinel Oct. 13.

The governor’s office finally released the documents Friday, after threat of a lawsuit by the newspaper.”

One FEMA consultant recognized the political implications immediately, noting that Pres. Bush, as usual, wanted to avoid any criticism.

“’Plenty is going to go wrong, and his Department of Homeland Security does not want to assume responsibility for all of it.’”

Garcelon, a former FEMA employee, recommended that ‘top-level people from FEMA and the White House need to develop a communication strategy and an agreed-upon set of themes and communications objectives.’

‘Communication consultants from the President’s re-election campaign should be brought in,’ he wrote. ‘Above all, everybody’s got to understand that no amount of flogging DHS/ FEMA will insure that the recovery will go perfectly. This is going to be a huge mess. The public needs to be prepared for it.’

FEMA officials said Tuesday that they did not ask Garcelon to write the memo and did not act on his recommendations.

FEMA, the Bush brothers, and the Republican National Committee all say they either didn’t get the memo or didn’t pay any attention to it. Even its author says it was just something he “dashed off” while on a plane. But after hearing about a very similar memo in the Schiavo case where Republican strategists seemed more concerned about politics than human beings, this isn’t much a of reach.

“Dan McLaughlin, spokesman for U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla, said he was not surprised ‘that a consultant for the Bush administration would consider politics before the needs of hurricane victims.’

‘The very first points [of Garcelon’s memo] have to do with shirking blame and calling in the president’s re-election experts,’ McLaughlin said. ‘It only serves to underscore why we have to investigate how FEMA spent the hurricane money because there are just too many questions.’

The story goes on to recount how various Bush cabinet members and others fell all over themselves to run down to Florida for photo ops. Reminds me of the stomach-turning trip Jeb took to look presidential inspect the tsunami damage last fall.


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