Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Forward Into the Trough 

As you already know, ex-FEMA chief Michael "Heck-of-a-Job" Brown has become the first bindlestiff thrown off the Bush gravy train. Back in the year 2000 it was widely and inexplicably assumed by many voters that Mr. Bush, an inexperienced cretin with no qualifications for the Presidency, would surround himself with "the best people"; instead he surrounded himself with the likes of Brown, an inexperienced cretin with no qualifications for the job of FEMA chief. (Although we have not had a chance to confirm our theory with the First Lady, we strongly suspect that Mr. Brown won the post by teaching Mr. Bush how to "milk" an Arabian stallion.) You will sleep more soundly tonight knowing that FEMA will henceforth be run by the helpful chap who advised, some years back, that Americans prepare for a biological attack by stocking up on duct tape.

Misplaced trust in his fellow dimwits has unfortunately exposed the President to press grillings like the one described today by Editor & Publisher, in which it becomes painfully apparent that the Chief Executive is either unwilling or unable to read a newspaper, and reluctant (though presumably able) to turn on a television in times of crisis; has less "situational awareness" about current events affecting the lives of millions of Amercians than the average sports fan who sees an occasional news crawl at the bottom of his ESPN screen; and is therefore woefully unfit to govern. Quizzed by reporters about Brown's resignation, Mr. Bush professed mystification: "Maybe you know something I don't know." Well, let's hope so; God help anyone who doesn't.

We know what you're wondering: does the Brown debacle signal an end to the naked cronyism and patronage that have so far been the hallmarks of the Bush administration? Not hardly, bubba, as Tim Grieve of Salon's War Room explains:
The White House would like us all to think of Hurricane Katrina as another 9/11 -- a time for Americans to come together and rally around our beleaguered commander in chief -- but it seems to be treating the disaster more like another Iraq. There's the cavalier attitude, the disconnect between the words in Washington and the reality on the ground, the rejection of the warnings of experts, and, of course, Halliburton.

And now, as the Wall Street Journal reports today, the Bush administration is "importing" into the Katrina recovery efforts "many of the contracting practices blamed for spending abuses in Iraq." The Journal says that the first large Katrina-recovery contracts have been awarded without competitive bidding and using "so-called cost-plus provisions that guarantee contractors a certain profit regardless of how much they spend." The problem with such contracts? They encourage waste because they provide no incentive for the contractors to control costs, the Journal says.

If it all sounds familiar, that's because it is. "You can easily compare FEMA's internal resources to what you saw in the early days of the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq: a small, underfunded organization taking on a Herculean task under tremendous time pressure," Steven Schooner, a contracting expert at George Washington University, tells the Journal. "That is almost by definition a recipe for disaster."

The Journal says that "politically connected companies" like Fluor Corp. and Bechtel will profit from the arrangement. Halliburton will get its share of the Katrina money, too: As we've noted previously, its subsidiary, Kellogg, Brown & Root, is already at work at naval facilities in Mississippi.
Elsewhere, the Washington Post ran a long article, "Cleanup Cash Goes to Familiar Faces," about the frantic jockeying by various well-placed Washington firms for federal reconstruction moolah. Josh Marshall has done yeoman work chronicling the efforts of another ex-FEMA head, super-lobbyist Joe Allbaugh, to "coordinate the private-sector response" to Katrina.

In short, the Iraq-style orgy of profiteering has already begun. There is one bit of mildly encouraging news, although we have yet to see it mentioned in an American paper: all of the above transactions are about to come under the close scrutiny of the GAO.
A powerful investigative agency of the US Congress is to investigate the award of contracts by the Bush administration for emergency and reconstruction work in the wake of Hurricane Katrina . . . .

Companies winning work include US contracting giants Bechtel and Halliburton. Halliburton, formerly headed by Vice President Dick Cheney, is facing questions for allegedly overcharging on work done in Iraq. The Department of Defense was criticised for awarding Iraq reconstruction contracts to these two companies without competition. Other groups include Fluor and Shaw Group, a Louisiana engineer. The move comes as leading congressional figures express concern over the contracting process.

California representative Henry Waxman, who led much of the investigation into the Iraq reconstruction contracts, says: 'The administration has an abysmal contracting record in Iraq. We can't afford to make the same mistakes again. We must make sure taxpayer funds are not wasted, because every dollar thrown away today is a dollar that is not available to hurricane victims and their families.' Contracts had to be awarded in 'full transparency'. He added the audit of the contracting was 'a very good first step'.
(Thanks to Zemblan patriot J.D. and our esteemed colleague Watertiger of Dependable Renegade for the links.)

UPDATE: And a tip of the Hatlo hat to Zencomix, who had the stallion-milking gag a week before we did.

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