Yesterday the Houston Chronicle reported that Halliburton has been hired by the Navy to repair its damaged facilities in Mississippi and perform initial damage assessments of facilities in New Orleans.
The work was assigned, reported the Chronicle, "under a 'construction capabilities' contract awarded in 2004 after a competitive bidding process." But it raises a question it is not at all too early to ask. The egg is pretty much cooked on the relief operation. But in the coming days and weeks we will move into a recovery phase in which, no doubt, tens of billions of dollars will be spent cleaning up and rebuilding not just New Orleans but big sections of the Gulf Coast.
Does anyone believe that the Bush administration can handle that money and that task without widespread waste, fraud and cronyism?
That's not just a question for partisan Democrats. I would think that there are a lot of Republicans up for reelection next year who are probably giving that question some serious thought. They may not want to attack the president. They may even want their own seat on the gravy train. But they know the record as well as anyone. And they may not want to be carrying the president's water a year from now when the news stories are filling the papers.
The news out today about FEMA Director Michael Brown tells the ugly tale. So let's just review what we now know -- with key new details first from a diarist at DailyKos and now confirmed in more depth in this morning's Boston Herald.
Michael Brown is a lawyer and GOP party activist. Before he came to FEMA in 2001, he had a full-time job overseeing horse-shows as the commissioner of the International Arabian Horse Association. He started with them in 1991. But he was eventually fired because of what the Herald describes as "after a spate of lawsuits over alleged supervision failures." (The Kos diary has some more details.)
But the stars were shining on Brown because President Bush had just been elected. And he appointed his chief political fixer Joe Allbaugh to replace James Lee Witt as head of FEMA.
That was a good break for the recently-canned Brown, because, as we learn from the Herald, he and Allbaugh were college roommates. He hired Brown as his General Counsel at FEMA in February. And then, by the end of the year, he promoted him to Deputy Director.
Then, little more than a year later, Allbaugh left FEMA to set up New Bridge Strategies, a consultancy to cash in on the Iraqi contracts bonanza. On Allbaugh's departure from FEMA, Brown became Director, in charge of federal domestic emergency management in the United States.
So, just to recap, Brown had no experience whatsoever in emergency management. He was fired from his last job for incompetence. He was hired because he was the new director's college roommate. And after the director -- who himself got the job because he was a political fixer for the president -- left, he became top dog. And President Bush said yesterday that he thinks Brown is "doing a helluva job".
Tens of billions of federal dollars are going to be spent on reconstruction, though the first allotment is only $10.5 billion. Does anybody think Bush administration has the competence or honesty to manage that money? Does anybody think it won't be handled with the efficiency, expertise and integrity of the Iraqi reconstruction?