Business as usual

Published 1:58 pm Monday, January 9, 2006

By Staff
The bungled response to Hurricane Katrina was years in the making.
President George W. Bush's first year in office he started replacing the Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA) experienced staff with cronies.
His first director, Joseph Allbaugh, had no experience in emergency management, but he had managed Bush's presidential campaign.
It was Allbaugh who hired college pal Michael Brown as general counsel, then promoted him to deputy director.
In 2002, the first MBA president knocked down any vestige of barriers between business and government by creating the Department of Homeland Security, folding 22 federal agencies and more than 183,000 government employees into one enormous entity focused on terrorism and dedicated to outsourcing as much work as possible to the private sector.
FEMA lost its Cabinet rank along with easy access to the Oval Office.
Many Americans were shocked to learn DHS, the sector of the federal government charged with insuring their safety in times of national emergency, amounts to a big business tentacle in a radical experiment in market-based government.
Within a month of the Gulf Coast devastation, a “reconstruction summit” convened in a Senate office building for some 300 corporate lobbyists and lawyers to learn how they could cash in on rebuilding New Orleans after the worst natural disaster in American history.
As recounted by Eric Klinenberg and Thomas Frank in Rolling Stone, the summit amounted to “a seminar on profiteering held on the grounds of the very institution to be plundered.”
One of the first four contracts FEMA awarded for housing and engineering was a $100 million no-bid contract to the Shaw Group.
Political connections are everything in today's culture for steering profitable contracts. Carnival Cruise Lines won a $236 million contract to provide three luxury liners for six months.
Tom Ridge, the first homeland security secretary, packed the DHS advisory council with corporate CEOs - many from industries positioned to profit from projects.
Outsourcing on homeland security has increased by $130 billion since Bush took office, according to the private Homeland Security Research Corp. The firm estimates that by 2010 the Bush administration's greater reliance on the private sector will boost federal contracts another $400 billion.
Federal contracts are supposed to be awarded to companies that can do the best job for the best price. But their business model seems inspired by Pentagon purchase practices for $400 hammers and $2,000 toilet seats provided by favored contractors.
It might be funny if it wasn't tax dollars supposed to be making us safer that are being squandered - small counties in Iowa buying wall clocks with built-in hidden cameras, bulletproof vests for dogs in the Columbus, Ohio, fire department, the District of Columbia paying youths in a summer jobs program to create a rap song about emergency preparedness or Missouri spending $7.2 million on 13,000 hazmat suits - one for every law-enforcement officer in that state.
Judging from federal spending, Wyoming faces a larger terror threat than New York. Michigan ranks eighth ($6.35), Indiana sixth ($6.31) on the losers list of states receiving the least per-capita.
No-bid deals only increase the odds of corruption.
This is the larger picture behind backpedaling politicians distancing themselves last week from convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
The Bush administration even argues that the disaster validated their ideology. It regards the devastated Gulf Coast as a free-market lab where it can really let the conservative agenda rip in the name of less government - more tax breaks, suspension of environmental regulations, perks for big oil, church subsidies and private school vouchers.
After Katrina Bush announced $7.1 billion to prepare against a bird flu pandemic. DHS is in charge of planning that response.
There is $6 billion for pharmaceutical giants developing vaccines, with much of the costs shifted to state and local levels.
Newt Gingrich urged the government to adopt “entrepreneurial management practices,” modeling itself after “America's best-run corporations.”