New Timeline

New Timeline


JANUARY 4 — BUSH APPOINTS JOE ALLBAUGH DIRECTOR OF FEMA: “Allbaugh had served as then-Gov. Bush’s chief of staff in Texas and as manager of his 2000 presidential campaign. Along with Karl Rove and Karen Hughes, Allbaugh was known as one part of Bush’s ‘iron triangle’ of professional handlers. … Some FEMA veterans complained that Allbaugh had little experience in managing disasters.” [CNN; Baltimore City Paper]

FEBRUARY — FEMA DISCONTINUES ‘PROJECT IMPACT’ PROGRAM: Project Impact was a disaster mitigation and preparedness program created by former FEMA chief James Lee Witt. The program was meant “to reduce the repeated loss of property and lives every time a disaster struck,” and was praised by emergency management experts. [Eric Holdeman, Washington Post, 8/29/05]

MAY – ALLBAUGH ANNOUNCES PLANS TO DOWNSIZE AND PRIVATIZATE FEMA: “In a May 15, 2001, appearance before a Senate appropriations subcommittee, Allbaugh signaled that the new, stripped-down approach would be applied at FEMA as well. ‘Many are concerned that federal disaster assistance may have evolved into both an oversized entitlement program and a disincentive to effective state and local risk management,’ he said. ‘Expectations of when the federal government should be involved and the degree of involvement may have ballooned beyond what is an appropriate level.'” [IndyWeek]

MAY 31 – LSU STUDY SHOWS COASTAL LOUISIANA SINKING: The Times-Picayune reports that LSU researchers found that Louisiana’s coast is sinking more than previously thought. “The result could be that a levee designed to protect a community from a fast-moving Category 3 hurricane, a storm with winds of up to 110 mph and a storm surge of 9 to 12 feet, is too low to do the job,” said Roy Dokka, director of LSU’s Center for GeoInformatics. [Times-Picayune, 5/31/01]

FEMA RANKS HURRICANE STRIKE ON NEW ORLEANS ONE OF THREE “LIKLIEST, MOST CATASTROPHIC” DISASTERS: In 2001, FEMA judged “the potential damage to New Orleans as among the three likeliest, most castastrophic disasters facing this country.” The other two were a massive earthquake in San Francisco and a terrorist attack on New York City. “The New Orleans hurricane scenario may be the deadliest of all.” [Houston Chronicle]


JUNE 19 — SENATE CONFIRMS BROWN AFTER 42 MINUTES OF QUESTIONING: Michael Brown testifies before the Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs and is confirmed as Deputy Director of FEMA. Only four senators attend the hearings, which last 42 minutes. [Congressional Record]

DECEMBER — FEMA INSPECTOR GENERAL ALARMED BY PLANS TO FOLD FEMA INTO DHS: “There are concerns of FEMA losing its identity as an agency that is quick to respond to all hazards and disasters,” Acting FEMA Inspector General Richard Skinner wrote in a December 2002 memo. [Knight-Ridder]

DECEMBER 16 – ALLBAUGH ANNOUNCES HE WILL STEP DOWN: Allbaugh leaves to start several consulting companies to assist clients seeking contracts in Iraq. [The Hill]


MARCH 1 – FEMA SUBSUMED BY HOMELAND SECURITY DEPARTMENT, LOSES CABINET STATUS: “Congress’ Government Accountability Office judged the merger to be a ‘high-risk’ endeavor for FEMA. [FEMA; Independent Weekly]

MARCH 1 – MICHAEL BROWN BECOMES DIRECTOR OF FEMA: Brown was Allbaugh’s college roommate. Before joining FEMA in 2001, Brown spent the previous 11 years as commissioner of judges at the International Arabian Horse Association. [Boston Herald; CNN]

NOVEMBER — FEMA CRITICIZED IN AFTERMATH OF HISTORIC CALIFORNIA WILDFIRES: Major wildfires burned 750,000 acres in October 2003. In April, then-Gov. Gray Davis had written to President Bush urging a disaster declaration due to abnormally high levels of dead trees. One week later, Sen. Barbara Boxer, Sen. Diane Feinstein and 10 House members from Southern California “” seven of them Republicans “” urged Bush to approve the request. It was passed to FEMA, which turned it down. [San Jose Mercury News, 11/1/03]


FEBRUARY — SURVEY SHOWS FEMA EMPLOYEE MORALE PLUMMETTING: “In February 2004, the American Federation of Government Employees surveyed 84 FEMA personnel about the state of things at the agency. The results showed a dramatic downturn in morale: Eighty percent said FEMA has become “a poorer agency” under DHS, and 60 percent said that, given the chance to move to another agency and make the same salary, they’d do so.” [Baltimore City Paper]

FEMA PREDICTS “MEGA-DISASTER” FROM MAJOR HURRICANE HIT ON NEW ORLEANS: Documents from the Department of Homeland Security show that FEMA was aware that a “catastrophic hurricane” could hit New Orleans and “trap hundreds of thousands of people in flooded areas and leave up to one million people homeless.” FEMA officials wrote: “the gravity of the situation calls for an extraordinary level of advance planning.” [House Committee on Government Reform, Minority Office]

APRIL 13 – ARMY CORPS PROJECT MANAGER SAYS HE’S SHORT ON FUNDS: The Times-Picayune reports that Al Naomi, the project manager in charge of levee system, said only $3.9 million had been written into Bush’s 2005 budget for the Lake Pontchartrain area hurricane-protection project, despite the fact that $22 million is needed. “Corps officials had hoped to finish all gaps in the levee by the end of this year. ‘We’re not going to be able to meet that goal,’ Naomi said. ‘We have gaps remaining.'” [Times-Picayune, 4/13/04]

JUNE — FEMA STAFF RAISE ALARM OVER INEXPERIENCED POLITICAL APPOINTEES: “In June, Pleasant Mann, a 16-year FEMA veteran who heads the agency’s government employee union, wrote members of Congress to warn of the agency’s decay. ‘Over the past three-and-one-half years, FEMA has gone from being a model agency to being one where funds are being misspent, employee morale has fallen, and our nation’s emergency management capability is being eroded,’ he wrote. ‘Our professional staff are being systematically replaced by politically connected novices and contractors.'” [Baltimore City Paper]

JUNE 8 — LOCAL EMERGENCY CHIEF SAYS LACK OF FUNDING WILL STOP LEVEE CONSTRUCTION: After Bush proposes spending less than 20 percent of what the Corps said was needed for Lake Pontchartrain projects, Walter Maestri, emergency management chief for Jefferson Parish, tells the Times-Picayune: “It appears that the money has been moved in the president’s budget to handle homeland security and the war in Iraq, and I suppose that’s the price we pay. Nobody locally is happy that the levees can’t be finished, and we are doing everything we can to make the case that this is a security issue for us.” [Times-Picayune, 6/8/04]

JUNE 18 — ARMY CORPS PROJECT MANAGER WARNS “EVERYTHING IS SINKING,” REQUESTS FEDERAL FUNDS: On June 18, 2004, the Times-Picayune reports that Al Naomi, the Army Corps project manager, went before the East Jefferson Levee Authority to beg for money that he could not get from the Bush administration. “The system is in great shape, but the levees are sinking. Everything is sinking, and if we don’t get the money fast enough to raise them, then we can’t stay ahead of the settlement,” he said. “The problem that we have isn’t that the levee is low, but that the federal funds have dried up so that we can’t raise them.” [Times-Picayune, 6/18/04]

JULY — FEMA EXERCISE SIMULATES HURRICANE HIT ON GULF COAST, TESTS ONLY CATEGORY 3 STORM: FEMA holds an exercise in Baton Rouge to develop joint response plans for a catastrophic hurricane in Louisiana. Officials “did not test for the worst-case scenario, rehearsing only what they would do if a Category 3 storm hit New Orleans, not the Category 4 power of Katrina.” Nevertheless, in a simulation of a Category 3 storm, called Hurricane Pam, “more than one million residents [were] evacuated” and 500,000-600,000 buildings were destroyed. White House officials are briefed on FEMA’s findings. [Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness; Louisiana State University; Washington Post]


ONLY 19 PERCENT OF FEMA STAFF ARE EXPERIENCED CAREER OFFICIALS: “In 2000, 40 percent of the top FEMA jobs were held by career workers who rose through the ranks of the agency, including chief of staff. By 2004, that figure was down to less than 19 percent, and the deputy director/chief of staff job is held by a former TV anchor turned political operative.” [Knight-Ridder]


MARCH — BROWN TELLS CONGRESS FEMA IS PREPARED “AS NEVER BEFORE”: On March 9, Michael Brown appeared before the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on Homeland Security. He said: “Our nation is prepared, as never before, to deal quickly and capably with the consequences of disasters and other domestic incidents.” [Roll Call, 9/8/05]

JULY — GAO FINDS FEMA NATURAL DISASTER PREPAREDNESS CRITICALLY UNDERFUNDED: “The Government Accountability Office found in July 2005 that 31 of 39 first responder departments agreed that training was adequate for terrorist attacks but not natural disasters. The report also found that almost 75 percent of grant dollars awarded by DHS for first responders in 2005 focused predominantly on terrorism training.” [PBS; GAO (pdf)]

AUGUST — DHS OPERATING WITH NO NATIONAL PROCEDURES FOR MAJOR DISASTER: On August 30, “as New Orleans was drowning and DHS officials were still hours away from invoking the department’s highest crisis status for the catastrophe, some department contractors found an important e-mail in their inboxes. Attached were two documents — one more than 400 pages long — that spelled out in numbing, acronym-filled detail the planned “national preparedness goal.” … But the documents were not a menu for action in the devastated Gulf Coast. They were drafts, not slated for approval and release until October, more than four years after 9/11.” [Washington Post]