Wednesday, April 12, 2006

The New Comeback Kids?

[[G I G S]] * Two stories, direct from Limbo’s “How Clueless Can They Get?” file: First, U.S. News & World Report is saying that new White House chief of staff Josh Bolten, in his effort to resuscitate the much-scandalized and tired Bush administration, is thinking of hiring Tom DeLay, the indicted and recently retired former House majority leader, as director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). That’s the job Bolten himself held before replacing Andrew Card last month as chief of staff. U.S. News quotes an unnamed source as saying, “It would be a savvy move” to install in that job an “outsider with strong fiscal conservative credentials.” But DeLay? Remember, it was this Texas Republican strongman who made sure that skyrocketing federal budget deficits would be commonplace, that U.S. taxpayers would foot the bill for George W. Bush’s bungled war on Iraq to the tune of $100,000 per minute, and that repeated tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans would shift the greatest burden of taxation onto America’s middle class. This is somebody to be trusted when it comes to making important budget and fiscal management decisions? Are these people nuts? After so many politically motivated and cronyish hires, have the Busheviks finally dispensed with any intention whatsoever of filling jobs with the most capable people? And do they honestly believe that the American public would rest easier at night, knowing a potential felon like DeLay is helping to spend their hard-earned tax dollars? Fortunately, the ex-congressman isn’t a shoe-in for the OMB post. Also said to be in the running are deputy OMB director Joel Kaplan, U.S. trade representative Rob Portman, and Al Hubbard, director of the National Economic Council.

Second bit of news: The New Orleans Times-Picayune reports that St. Bernard Parish, one of the areas of south Louisiana worst hit by Hurricane Katrina last August, is looking to hire none other than Michael Brown, the disgraced former head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), to help local businesses and members of its community navigate the often choppy waters of the federal bureaucracy. Brown, who founded a consulting company after being expelled from his FEMA berth, is expected on Thursday to deliver his pitch for employment to the St. Bernard Parish council’s executive-finance committee. It “would be a mistake” to hire Brown, the Times-Picayune editorialized on Tuesday, adding:
Parish Council members need to remember Mr. Brown’s abysmal performance during and after the hurricane. Granted, the former head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency had a better grasp on the gravity of Katrina than his vapid e-mails to staff members indicated. Those exchanges made him seem self-involved and clueless, but he did warn employees in a videoconference held before the storm that “this is a bad one and a big one.”

Even so, nothing in Mr. Brown’s performance suggests that he’s the person who can make things happen for St. Bernard Parish. If he couldn’t get FEMA to work right when he was on the inside, before his forced resignation, how can he do so now, from the outside?

The agency seems every bit as dysfunctional now as it was during the storm, and it’s hard to believe that Mr. Brown’s familiarity with FEMA will make any difference in how much aid gets to St. Bernard Parish or how quickly.

Mr. Brown has been
trying to rehabilitate his battered image since leaving FEMA by casting himself as the designated scapegoat. He’s criticized the decision to put the agency under the Department of Homeland Security, for instance, saying that its focus on terrorism made FEMA a stepchild.

That’s the reason he’s given for dealing directly with the White House during Katrina instead of going through Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff.

But some who find that explanation persuasive still see Mr. Brown as well-intentioned but unqualified. Those are hardly the qualities St. Bernard Parish should be paying for at this critical time.
Brown told the Houston Chronicle that “I can help make sure [the people of St. Bernard Parish] don’t get overlooked.” But Louisiana state Senator Walter Boasso, who represents St. Bernard, isn’t convinced. “Brown is just a sad reminder to my community of our needless loss of life and property,” he’s quoted in the Times-Picayune, “and we shouldn’t have to struggle with that reminder so soon in the midst of our rebuilding.” We’ll see what happens on Thursday, when a crowd is expected in the parish seat of Chalmette to protest Brown’s hiring.

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