Keeping Up Appearances at FEMA

Thursday, November 1, 2007

The phony news conference held last week by Harvey E. Johnson Jr., deputy administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, showed just how politicized FEMA has become at the expense of good disaster management ["Fake FEMA Briefing Costs Official New Assignment; Missteps Too Common at Agency, Critics Say," news story, Oct. 30].

I hope the American public does not blame FEMA employees for Mr. Johnson's actions.

In 2004, when hurricanes hit Florida just before the presidential election, FEMA dispatched far more staff than needed to burnish its image in a state with a significant number of Electoral College votes.

FEMA bosses told employees to put on their agency hats and shirts and "drive around" to show people that FEMA was on the job. Experienced disaster workers pointed out that there were more important priorities. (The "drive around" idea was subsequently dropped.)

Before Hurricane Katrina made landfall, we urged swift action, but the response from the Department of Homeland Security and the White House seemed sluggish at best, not because of any animosity toward New Orleans but because 2005 was not an election year.

When many of us went on duty to support FEMA efforts in California during the wildfires, Mr. Johnson ordered that FEMA vehicles helping the effort display FEMA logos and that FEMA staff members wear agency shirts and hats to show that FEMA was on the job. No mention was made of any special instructions from Mr. Johnson for helping the victims.


President, Local 4060

American Federation

of Government Employees


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