Saturday, October 22, 2005

Evaluating the Hirers

Preliminary Question

Why is Michael Brown, the former FEMA director that was forced out of office after the Katrina disaster, still working for FEMA?

According to the Mary Curtis of the Los Angeles Times,

Brown is still on FEMA's payroll as a consultant, [FEMA Spokeswoman Nichol] Andrews confirmed. He works from home, where he is "pulling all the documentation together" for the investigations into Katrina response, she said, and his original 30-day contract was recently extended for another 30 days.

Second question: Exactly what type of documentation is he pulling together? Does it have anything to do with his actions regarding that hurricane? Can somebody assure me that these things are being handled in a way that protects the integrity of the data that Brown is assembling?

Evaluating the Hirers

If an employer hires an employee who is poorly qualified to do his job well, the person responsible for the error is not only the employee who made the mistake, but the person who hired him or her.

Michael Brown

This is the case with FEMA director Michael Brown. Marty Bahomonde, the only FEMA official at the Superdome while things got so bad there, testified he had personally informed Brown about those situations and gotten no substantive response. He reported sending emails to Brown and talking to him on the phone on one occasion to tell him that the levees had broken. Later that day, when he tried to contact Brown again, he was told that the FEMA director was unavailable because he had gone out for dinner in a fancy Baton Rouge restaurant, and had a TV appearance to make after dinner.

If this can be substantiated, this represents a willful dereliction of duty. It would be comparable to an Army, while a battle is being fought, putting a "do not disturb" sign on his office door and telling his aide to hold his calls for a couple of hours. The time for fine dining and a relaxing evening is after the battle is over and the situation is known to be well in hand.

With respect to his qualifications, it has been widely reported that Brown's last job before working for FEMA was as a supervisor of judges for the International Arabian Horse Association IAHA) -- a position he was asked to resign. Plus, he worked on Bush’s presidential campaign.

This is unfair because his job experience, at the time that Katrina hit, included 4 years working for FEMA; 1.5 years as Deputy Director and 2.5 years as Director. This more than overshadows what happened at the IAHA five years earlier.

My sense is that people who focus on Brown's service for IAHA do so because they are more interested in unjust derision of another person than in fair criticism. These people should have spoken up in 2002 when Brown was nominated as Deputy Director. Where were they then? Brown's confirmation was approved by Senate that the Democrats controlled. They are as responsible for hiring Brown as Bush was for nominating him.

Actually, there is a constitutional dispute over what role the Senate has with respect to nominations. The Constitution says that the President hires people with the advice and consent of the Senate. The dispute is over how to define "advice and consent". Still, the Senate -- a Senate run by Democrats, consented to this appointment.

Where were these critics when Brown was nominated for the position of Director in January 2003? This would have been a perfect time for the Senate to have asked questions. This would have been a perfect time for the Senate to ask, "Can't we get somebody with more experience actually responding to a disaster in this position?"

When people say that the Hurricane Katrina disaster was a failure at all levels of government, this has more truth to it than most people realize. The failure includes the Senate – under both Democratic and Republican leadership – which failed in its role to give advice and consent the President’s nominee.

Karen Hughes

Another recent Bush appointee is Karen Hughes, the Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy. She is in charge of improving America’s image overseas. In short, she is the ‘spin doctor’ for explaining Bush Administration policies to the people of other countries.

In a recent visit to Egypt, an Egyptian opposition leader asked her why Bush mentions God so often in his speeches. This is said in the context within which Muslim extremists are using the idea that America is on a religious crusade against Islam to recruit soldiers and solicit funds for their campaigns. According to a briefing transcript, Hughes reports, “I asked whether he was aware that previous American presidents have also cited God, and that our Constitution cites “one nation under God.’

Actually, it appears that the person in charge of promoting foreign understanding of America does not have a working knowledge of the Constitution of the United States. The Constitution contains no mention of God. It only mentions religion twice – once to say, “no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States” (Section VI, Article 3) , and “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof” (Amendment I).

If anything, it would serve American interests well if the people in the Arab world knew what the US Constitution actually says about religion. It would also serve American interests well if the people in the Bush Administration knew what the US Constitution actually says about religion.

Harriet Miers

Miers’ job history includes an appointed position to the Texas lottery commission (under Governor George Bush), then serving Bush during the 2000 election campaign, getting a job in the Bush Administration as Assistant to the President and Staff Secretary, and moving up to White House Council in 2004.

Earlier this week, the Republican-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee returned the answers that Harriet Miers provided to a questionnaire, saying that her answers are inadequate.

One of her answers even contained an error, where she wrote that she had to make sure that the Dallas City Council conformed to the proporational representation requirement of the Equal Protection Clause.

There is no proporational representation requirement of the Equal Protection Clause.

The severity of this mistake comes to light if we consider that a Supreme Court Justice needs to write a decision about what the Constitution says about a particular case before it. The Justice needs to know what the Constitution says. Furthermore, that Justice needs to have enough presence of mind to double-check his or her facts. She should have asked somebody, somewhere, to check her answers and make sure that it makes sense. She should have exercised as much care answering the Senate’s questions as she would have otherwise spent writing a Supreme Court decision.


A good manager does not know how to do every job that needs doing in his organization. But he knows how to find good people to do those jobs. If we discover that jobs are being filled by people who are not capable of doing that job well, our questions should ultimately fall on those who do the hiring.

In this case, it is not just President Bush who does the hiring. It is also the Senate that is supposed to be giving him advice and consent. It is the Senate’s job to look over the qualifications of those that the President submits and say, “I don’t think that this is the best person for the position” or “Heck, sure, I think he can do the job.”

Many people want to blame the President alone. However, it is time to start asking Senators as well, “Why are you allowing these people into these positions?”