CHRONOLOGY.... Here's a timeline that outlines the fate of
both FEMA and flood control projects in New Orleans under the Bush administration.
Read it and weep:
January 2001: Bush appoints Joe Allbaugh, a crony from Texas,
as head of FEMA. Allbaugh has no previous experience in disaster management.
April 2001: Budget Director Mitch Daniels announces the Bush
administration's goal of privatizing much of FEMA's work. In May, Allbaugh confirms
that FEMA will be downsized: "Many are concerned that federal disaster
assistance may have evolved into both an oversized entitlement program...."
he said. "Expectations of when the federal government should be involved
and the degree of involvement may have ballooned beyond what is an appropriate
2001: FEMA designates a major hurricane hitting New Orleans
as one of the three "likeliest, most catastrophic disasters facing this
December 2002: After less than two years at FEMA, Allbaugh
announces he is leaving to start up a consulting firm that advises companies
seeking to do business in Iraq. He is succeeded by his deputy, Michael Brown,
who, like Allbaugh, has no previous experience in disaster management.
March 2003: FEMA is downgraded from a cabinet level position
and folded into the Department of Homeland Security. Its mission is refocused
on fighting acts of terrorism.
2003: Under its new organization chart within DHS, FEMA's
preparation and planning functions are reassigned to a new Office of Preparedness
and Response. FEMA will henceforth focus only on response and recovery.
Summer 2004: FEMA denies Louisiana's pre-disaster mitigation
funding requests. Says Jefferson Parish flood zone manager Tom Rodrigue: "You
would think we would get maximum consideration....This is what the grant program
called for. We were more than qualified for it."
June 2004: The Army Corps of Engineers budget for levee construction
in New Orleans is slashed. Jefferson Parish emergency management chiefs Walter
Maestri comments: "It appears that the money has been moved in the president's
budget to handle homeland security and the war in Iraq, and I suppose that's
the price we pay."
June 2005: Funding for the New Orleans district of the U.S.
Army Corps of Engineers is cut by a record $71.2 million. One of the hardest-hit
areas is the Southeast Louisiana Urban Flood Control Project, which was created
after the May 1995 flood to improve drainage in Jefferson, Orleans and St. Tammany
August 2005: While New Orleans is undergoing a slow motion
catastrophe, Bush mugs for the cameras, cuts a cake for John McCain, plays the
guitar for Mark Wills, delivers an address about V-J day, and continues with
his vacation. When he finally gets around to acknowledging the scope of the
unfolding disaster, he delivers only a photo op on Air Force One and a flat,
defensive, laundry list speech in the Rose Garden.
A crony with no relevant experience was installed as head of FEMA.
Mitigation budgets for New Orleans were slashed even though it was known to
be one of the top three risks in the country. FEMA was deliberately downsized
as part of the Bush administration's conservative agenda to reduce the role
of government. After DHS was created, FEMA's preparation and planning functions
were taken away.
Actions have consequences. No one could predict that a hurricane the size of
Katrina would hit this year, but the slow federal response when it did happen
was no accident. It was the result of four years of deliberate Republican policy
and budget choices that favor ideology and partisan loyalty at the expense of
operational competence. It's the Bush administration in a nutshell.
Professor of Communication
Department of Communication Stanford University
Stanford, California USA 94305-2050