Thursday, March 02, 2006

Memo to President Bush: Cut off Chertoff

It’s time for him to go. Far, far away from national security.

He’s failed to make our borders secure or to stem the flow of illegal immigration. He failed to respond to hurricane Katrina. He foolishly ordered the much-maligned Michael Brown to sit on his butt in Baton Rouge, revealing a staggering ignorance of how the activities of a leader (more than a mere manager!) acts in an emergency. Moreover, the recovery effort continues to be a joke – those damned trailers are *still* in Arkansas!

Chertoff wasn’t aware of the deliberations in which his agency participated to consider the Dubai Ports World contract to manage terminals in some U.S. ports. And he failed to recognize and tip off the administration that it would be a hot-button issue.

Chertoff should be fired and the agency he heads should be relieved of the burden of FEMA. There have been problems with the Department of Homeland Security, starting with its name: It should have been the Department of Defense – defend the country, defend the borders, defend the people. Except that the Department of Defense, which used to be more appropriately named the War Department, already has that name. So the new organization created to handle national defense had to be called something else. Now we’re probably stuck with the clumsily named Department of Homeland Security, resonating as it does with Nazi overtones of heimat, heim, und volk, meaning homeland, hearth, and folk.

But the problems with DHS go beyond its name. The conglomerate agency has not been successful in melding together the disparate organizational cultures of its combined units.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency under Clinton was one of the most professional and effective of all federal agencies. But the unit has fallen victim to the dysfunction of the DHS. As a result, many people are calling for removing FEMA out from under DHS, and the pitiful performance of the unit as part of the gigantic bureaucratic structure speaks for itself.

Chertoff has presided over the destruction of FEMA’s ability to respond to natural disasters. Michael Brown, former head of FEMA, referred to the possible breach of New Orleans’ levees as a potential disaster within a disaster.

As it turns out, DHS’s sabotage of FEMA is the real disaster within the disaster of the New Orleans levee breach, within the disaster of Katrina.


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