Tuesday, September 13, 2005

"Where There Is No Vision, The People Perish"

In the weeks following the failed hurricane relief response in New Orleans, Congressman Harold Ford Jr. has been demonstrated the leadership that is worthy of a U.S. Senator.

However, as recently revealed, many of our nation's leaders have not lived up to the leadership that their office requires.

From day one the Congressman has been actively involved in pursuing measures that would benefit the displaced survivors of the hurricane and putting structure into a failed system. He was also one of the first people to call for the ouster of FEMA director Michael Brown. Since that time, we have learned more and more about the background of Michael Brown, most of which is disturbing to say the least.

According to a recent Time magazine article, Brown's resume was filled with discrepancies and raised real questions about his experience in emergency management. We all know by now that Michael Brown resigned yesterday after being 'sent home' at the end of last week. However, this issue is not dead with his resignation.

As Congressman Ford said today on Imus in the Morning, this incident will bring Presidential appointments more into focus, and rightfully so. When the next emergency happens, such as an earthquake or a terrorist attack, there will be no warning like there was with Hurricane Katrina. And the question then becomes, are we prepared? Unfortunatly, as this recent disaster revealed, we are not. That is why it is incumbent that the President appoints the best qualified candidate who has the necessary experience to lead through difficult times such as these.

Too many people in New Orleans died due to the Bush Administration's incompetence and lack of action. As citizens of this great nation, we should urge Congress to form an independent commission to see what went wrong and why. We must hold those in fault accountable for their actions, or lack there of in this case. That is the least we can do for those who paid for their mistakes.

To get a better grasp of the cronyism that is taking place in the heiracrchy of the Bush administration, please read this recent Reuters article:

Companies with ties to the Bush White House and the former head of FEMA are clinching some of the administration's first disaster relief and reconstruction contracts in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

At least two major corporate clients of lobbyist Joe Allbaugh, President George W. Bush's former campaign manager and a former head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, have already been tapped to start recovery work along the battered Gulf Coast.

One is Shaw Group and the other is Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg Brown and Root. Vice President Dick Cheney is a former head of Halliburton.

Bechtel National, a unit of San Francisco's Bechtel, has also been selected by FEMA to provide short-term housing for people displaced by the hurricane. Bush named Bechtel's CEO to his Export Council and put the former CEO of Bechtel Energy in charge of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation.

Experts say it has been common practice in both Republican and Democratic administrations for policy makers to take lobbying jobs once they leave office, and many of the same companies seeking contracts in the wake of Hurricane Katrina have already received billions of dollars for work in Iraq.

Halliburton alone has earned more than $9 billion. Pentagon audits released by Democrats in June showed $1.03 billion in "questioned" costs and $422 million in "unsupported" costs for Halliburton's work in Iraq.

But the web of Bush administration connections is attracting renewed attention from watchdog groups in the post-Katrina reconstruction rush. Congress has already appropriated more than $60 billion in emergency funding as a down payment on recovery efforts projected to cost well over $100 billion.

"The government has got to stop stacking senior positions with people who are repeatedly cashing in on the public trust in order to further private commercial interests," said Danielle Brian, executive director of the Project on Government Oversight.

Allbaugh formally registered as a lobbyist for Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg Brown and Root in February. In lobbying disclosure forms filed with the Senate, Allbaugh said his goal was to "educate the congressional and executive branch on defense, disaster relief and homeland security issues affecting Kellogg Brown and Root."

Melissa Norcross, a Halliburton spokeswoman, said Allbaugh has not, since he was hired, "consulted on any specific contracts that the company is considering pursuing, nor has he been tasked by the company with any lobbying responsibilities."

Allbaugh is also a friend of Michael Brown, director of FEMA who was removed as head of Katrina disaster relief and sent back to Washington amid allegations he had padded his resume.

A few months after Allbaugh was hired by Halliburton, the company retained another high-level Bush appointee, Kirk Van Tine. Van Tine registered as a lobbyist for Halliburton six months after resigning as deputy transportation secretary, a position he held from December 2003 to December 2004.

On Friday, Kellogg Brown & Root received $29.8 million in Pentagon contracts to begin rebuilding Navy bases in Louisiana and Mississippi. Norcross said the work was covered under a contract that the company negotiated before Allbaugh was hired.

Halliburton continues to be a source of income for Cheney, who served as its chief executive officer from 1995 until 2000 when he joined the Republican ticket for the White House. According to tax filings released in April, Cheney's income included $194,852 in deferred pay from the company, which has also won billion-dollar government contracts in Iraq.

Cheney's office said the amount of deferred compensation is fixed and is not affected by Halliburton's current economic performance or earnings.

Allbaugh's other major client, Baton Rouge-based Shaw Group, has updated its website to say: "Hurricane Recovery Projects -- Apply Here!"

Shaw said on Thursday it has received a $100 million emergency FEMA contract for housing management and construction. Shaw also clinched a $100 million order on Friday from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Shaw Group spokesman Chris Sammons said Allbaugh was providing the company with "general consulting on business matters," and would not say whether he played a direct role in any of the Katrina deals. "We don't comment on specific consulting activities," he said.