FEMA's 'Unfortunate' Privacy Disaster

By Al Kamen
Monday, April 23, 2007

Sometimes when they are not busy dealing with natural disasters, FEMA folks just make up their own. We got this letter the other day from Glenn M. Cannon, assistant administrator in the Disaster Operations Directorate.

"Dear Disaster Generalist," he wrote to about 2,300 people on April 16, "an unfortunate administrative processing error at FEMA . . . has resulted in the printing of Social Security numbers on the outside address labels of Disaster Assistance Employee (DAE) . . . reappointment letters."

The mail distribution center mishandled the letters, he said, creating this "unintentional release of Privacy Act information."

Once it figured out what happened, FEMA sprang into action. Everyone affected will get "identity theft protection for one year free of charge," Cannon said.

But wait! That's not all! "Each affected [employee] will receive a personal telephone call to apologize and explain the actions FEMA will take to minimize the impact," he said. And from now on employees will be given personal identification numbers so the agency won't need to use Social Security numbers.

Employees who've already lost their homes to identity thieves can avail themselves of some fine used and not-used trailers . . . (Okay, we made that up.)

Cookin' in Kirkuk

While everyone's been focusing on Baghdad as the key to getting things calmed down in Iraq, the situation in Kirkuk to the north is edging toward serious trouble. The Kurds, who claim the town and the oil-rich area around it as their own, are preparing for a constitutionally mandated referendum later this year.

To make sure the vote turns out right, thousands of Arabs whom Saddam moved up from the south years ago are being encouraged to go back "home," wherever that is. Kurds whom Saddam kicked out are coming back. Turkey, worried about the fate of the large Turkmen population in Kirkuk and Kurdish control of the oil and so on, is rattling sabers.

Even so, the region has been booming of late, building cranes are everywhere, and the region's creaky infrastructure is hardly equipped to handle things.

So the Army has put out a "request for information" looking for urban planners and contractors who might be able to work on "the design of the Kirkuk Master Plan." Work is to begin May 1 and end next April 30.

The proposal says the idea is to "revise and update the master plan" and "identify the priorities . . . and prospects considering the fast changes in . . . land use patterns and other developments."

"Other developments"? Well, unless the tensions can be defused, this might include congestion created by troop movements, tank routes and battery placements if the tinderbox goes up. Planners might want to widen streets for evacuation routes and locate additional fountains in strategic areas to help put out any fires.

But at least there'll be a plan.

Wolfowitz Here Today, but Ghani Tomorrow?

World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz pledged last week to work extra hard to improve relations with the staff at the bank, which has been in an uproar over revelations that he ordered whopping raises and promotions for his girlfriend.

Top officials at the Treasury Department -- the point agency for matters involving the bank -- publicly and privately insist they will not act before studying the results of a new "urgent" review of the situation ordered Friday by the bank's board of directors.

Even so, the buzz around town and overseas was that administration officials had already begun compiling a list of potential replacements for Wolfowitz. The Times of London reported Friday that Ashraf Ghani, a former bank special adviser and the first Afghan finance minister in the post-Taliban government, is near the top of the list.

Highly regarded by the U.S. defense establishment, Ghani, now chancellor of Kabul University, is credited with overhauling the Afghan economy. He would be the first non-American and the first Muslim to lead the bank.

A Few Too Many

There is a certain dull repetitiveness to the dual resignation watches of Wolfowitz and Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzale s. Every day, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino repeats the same "president backs him" mantra.

"Does the president ever get tired of having to express his full confidence in the people around him these days?" a reporter asked last week.

"When you're the president of the United States and you have this many folks that you are employing, it's a pretty small number that he's had to express full confidence in," Perino said.

Well, there aren't all that many Cabinet-level people to begin with.

Now Appearing at the FCC

Ellen Engleman Connors, former chair of the National Transportation Safety Board, who was constantly at odds with several fellow board members, is back in town, working at the Federal Communications Commission.

She dropped a re-confirmation bid in December 2005 at the safety board and moved out to take a job as head of the Indiana Association of Realtors.

Party Time in Egypt

Going to the gala wedding of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's son on May 4 in Sharm el-Sheikh? Better watch for flight overbooking -- unless you have your own plane.

The wedding of son and reputed successor Gamal Mubarak, 43, to 24-year-old Khadiga el-Gamal, coinciding with the president's 79th birthday, is the kickoff event of the spring season. Everyone who's anyone will be there.

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