Monday, July 07, 2008

Your Government Inaction

The tragedy of Hurricane Katrina continues. CNN reports that FEMA stored $85 million worth of supplies meant for Katrina victims for two years, declared them surplus and then gave them away.

(Read the full story here)

A highlight: Mississippi's surplus agency spokeswoman Kym Wiggins said, "There may be a need, but we were not notified that there was a great need for this particular property." Who was supposed to notify you, Kym? How were they supposed to know you had this stuff?

Just a classic government clusterbomb.

It reminded me of the frustrating two weeks I spent in Louisiana two months after the storm hit in 2005. I was producing stories for a FEMA-operated TV network called the Recovery Channel, whose supposed purpose was to keep the evacuees scattered around the country apprised of the recovery progress. But stories became entangled in a great morass of government self-servitude because the bureaucrat supervising us wanted certain officials "featured."

It wasn't about serving the victims at all. It was about junior bureaucrats perverting a noble idea to make superiors happy.

FEMA had converted a former Baton Rouge shopping mall into its Louisiana operations base. Three thousand bureaucrats pushing paper around all day, most that I encountered had the same attitude of our supervisor who once said to me, "Just because I spend my time in meetings all day doesn't mean I'm not working." Actually, if you mean getting any work done, it does mean that. But as long as she could account for her time, she didn't have to be accountable for anything.

It boils my blood again just thinking about it. God, that was the saddest thing I've ever seen. I tried to keep a journal of the experience but was frequently too exhausted both from seeing such universal devastation* and from beating my head against a wall of bureaucracy to properly articulate my observations.

*As I wrote at the time: Here's the thing the pictures don't show: It's not that you see damage. It's that you don't see anywhere there is no damage.


turdpolisher said...

Katarina did a number on a lot of us. Almost drove me from the business.

As for the FEMA HQ in BR. What a colossal waste. Couldn't get information out of them with a crowbar. And the help they delivered to residents was always late and less than helpful.

I'd like to say this place is still screwed up because of them, but it was messed up before they ever pulled into town.

John said...

I forgot to mention that the FEMA HQ in Baton Rouge had metal fencing around it built and armed military personnel in place to guard it.