In late December 2000, Federal Emergency Management Agency Director Michael D. Brown got a call from his old college pal, Joe M. Allbaugh, incoming President Bush's campaign manager.
"He said, 'Come on, we're going to D.C. together,' " Brown recalled, according to a 2003 profile in Congressional Quarterly.
Allbaugh chuckled. "And I said to him, 'Why would I want to do that?' "
Well, barring some unforeseeable disaster, top federal officials have interesting jobs, the pay's not horrible and afterward, like Allbaugh, most everyone stays in the area to cash in as a consultant or lobbyist.
So with "Brownie" clearly heading out the door after a short but decent interval, the question is, what should he do next? Maybe join former Iraq viceroy L. Paul Bremer in a global disaster management consulting firm? Maybe run NASA's foam insulation program?
Loop Fans (you saw this one coming) can help! Yes, it's the In the Loop "Brownie's Next Gig" Contest. Simply think of an appropriate job for the outgoing FEMA director. Send your entry via e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or mail it to In the Loop, The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071. Naturally, entries by administration or Hill folks may be submitted on background. But all entries must include telephone contact numbers to be eligible. Winners will receive a coveted In the Loop T-shirt.
The wire services reported Friday that sources close to Brown said he had always planned to leave after hurricane season. Well, in the off chance he's accelerated his plans, the deadline for contest entries is midnight, Sept. 19.
Losing at the Disaster Game
Meanwhile, critics have pilloried Brown, saying he was asleep at the switch. But there is clear proof this is absolutely untrue. A good two years ago, FEMA had put up an online board game on its Web site for kids to learn about what to do in the event of hurricanes, floods or earthquakes.
"The new game will help keep children's interest and enhance the likelihood they'll retain what they've learned," Brown told Homeland Security.
The game, "Disaster Discovery," which is still available on the Web site, asks questions that, if you answer correctly, enable you to move along the game board. Sometimes penalties pop up unexpectedly, such as, "You went outside when the eye of the hurricane passed over just to look at the damage. Go back 3 spaces."
Or maybe you said no one predicted the levees would break? Go back 10 spaces.
You said you didn't know all those people were in the New Orleans Convention Center? Lose a turn. Pad your resume? Game over!
A Chinese Gun Salute Put on Hold
In addition to the tremendous devastation, Hurricane Katrina also erased one of the most intricately negotiated diplomatic visits ever when President Bush was obliged to cancel last week's scheduled visit of Chinese President Hu Jintao to the White House.
The trip had been eagerly sought for months by the Chicoms, who want to make nice amid nasty disputes over trade, currency, copyright piracy and a worrisome military buildup.
The Chinese wanted a full "state visit": the crucial arrival grip-and-grin in front of the White House, the 21-gun salute, followed later by an elaborate state dinner complete with meaningless toasts and so on. Nothing less than what the Indian prime minister got.
The administration, not wanting to be too nice to Beijing, nixed the state visit idea. They were even cool to any D.C. event at all. At some point along the way the Chinese, according to one source, popped up with a little currency revaluation move apparently to sweeten the pot.
And so it went, back and forth. Finally, Washington agreed to a simple visit. And no multi-course dinner, just a little lunch. But the Chinese negotiators won on a critical element: The U.S. negotiators agreed on the White House arrival and smiling greeting and on the guns -- though it's unclear how many rounds were to be fired.
Alas, it was all for naught. They'll have to re-work it, maybe next year.
Powell's Blotted Words
It's only after government officials have moved on and started to give speeches out of town that the interesting revelations appear. For example, we learned in October 2004 that L. Paul Bremer felt "we never had enough troops on the ground" to effectively occupy Iraq. But that was four months after he quit. He said it in a speech -- off the record -- to the Council of Insurance Agents and Brokers meeting at the Greenbrier resort in West Virginia.
Former secretary of state Colin L. Powell, in a Sept. 6 speech at Southern Methodist University, reported by the Daily Campus, said he holed himself up for three days with then-CIA Director George J. Tenet, who "vouched for every single word" of Powell's ill-fated U.N. speech about then-Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's WMD. Powell said that "intelligence is never perfect," because "the enemy is not cooperating." Just last week, Powell called the speech "a blot" on his record.
Powell, the paper reported, said the people in Iraq giving us all this info would have stopped receiving paychecks if their services were no longer needed. This proved to be an incentive for informants to continue leading the CIA on a wild goose chase for stockpiles of weapons that did not exist.