Friday, October 14, 2005

Search and replace

Going back over some stories from the early days of the Katrina debacle, I found this one from Wired about FEMA (September 2, 2005). The outlines of the story are by now familiar, but I was struck by the parallels with another agency, the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (aka "CDC"):
[Emergency management consultant Clare] Rubin said FEMA functioned well in the 1990s as a small, independent agency.

"Under DHS, it was downgraded, buried in a couple of layers of bureaucracy, and terrorism prevention got all the attention and most of the funds," she said.

Former FEMA director James Lee Witt testified to Congress in March 2004: "I am extremely concerned that the ability of our nation to prepare for and respond to disasters has been sharply eroded.

"I hear from emergency managers, local and state leaders, and first responders nearly every day that the FEMA they knew and worked well with has now disappeared. In fact one state emergency manager told me, 'It is like a stake has been driven into the heart of emergency management,"' he said.

Underlying the situation has been the general reluctance of government at any level to invest in infrastructure or emergency management, said David McEntire, who teaches emergency management at the University of North Texas.

"No one cares about disasters until they happen. That is a political fact of life," he said.

"Emergency management is woefully underfunded in this nation. That covers not only first responders but also warning, evacuation, damage assessment, volunteer management, donation management and recovery and mitigation issues."
If you do a "global search and replace" with CDC for FEMA, you get a pretty good description of CDC in the Bush-Gerberding era. The destruction of local public health infrastructure coupled with a total absence of leadership from the federal health establishment is the recipe for today's "we're not ready" lament about a potential influenza pandemic.

Fine for Secretary Leavitt to say baldly, "we're not prepared" for a pandemic. Too bad he can't also tell the truth, that it's the fault of the Bush Adminstration. They control the government: The White House and both houses of congress. For that privilege, they get the blame.