Thursday, September 08, 2005

Brown out

I don't think I've ever seen a senior government employee with his head as far up his ass as Micheal Brown at FEMA. A week after he and his agency completely and utterly screwed up before a live television audience of billions, this guy isn't even smart enough to figure out that he has a problem. He thinks the priority of FEMA employees ought to be public relations - that somehow telling people that FEMA did a good job will make it so. Right up there with "War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength."

As the New York Times and others have reported, his only qualification for the job seems to be political connections. And this chicken ought to come home to roost in the lap of the man who appointed him, George W. Bush. As the NYT points out, political loyalty and relevant skills do not have to be mutually exclusive. But if like our current President all you care about is loyalty then relevant skills and competence don't even come in to the mix.

I do take issue though with those commentators who argue that the only relevant skill set for the FEMA Director is previous experience in disaster management - since it's such a specialised field that will tend to reduce the field of suitable candidates to a tiny handful and may also create an unhealthly adherence to traditional approaches. But if we look at the underlying skills required - in planning, logistics and distribution - we can quickly see that there are plenty of places to look. Apart from retired military, there's always Wal-Mart which seems to have done a better job than FEMA without even breaking a sweat.

What I can tell you is that the least relevant skills to the job are those possessed by spin doctors and political sycophants.

Update: I forgot to mention that Michael Brown is a lawyer. Lawyers have their place. It's practicing law. Being a lawyer doesn't qualify you for anything other than being a lawyer. It's a tragedy that so many people think that because elected representatives pass laws, and appointed officials administer them, that somehow being a lawyer is a relevant qualification. That thinking mistakes form for substance. Lawyers can help with getting the form of legislation right, but they have no special skills relevant to the real challenge - ensuring that the content of a law is good policy or in ensuring that it is efficiently and effectively implemented.

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