Technology with attitude

Another Unqualified FEMA Director?

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Recently, Michael Totten wrote an essay in the wake of Hurricane Katrina’s devastation called The End Of All Things. In it, he detailed how Portland could just as easily be destroyed by the unsympathetic hand of Mother Nature.

The reason I say it could have been Portland’s day to die is because it really could have been Portland’s day to die. New Orleans is menaced by wind and water. Portland is threatened by earth and fire.

Mt. Tabor rises above residential neighborhoods near the geographic center of the city. That small mountain was forged in an eruption. Houses are built all the way up it, bang on top of the volcano. Spend a little time looking at underground maps of tectonic fault lines and you’ll feel like gigantic gun barrels are pointed up at the city from below, loaded and ready to fire as soon as the sinister order is given. Oregon is scheduled for something like a mind-boggling 9.0 earthquake between tomorrow and the next couple of hundred years. I probably won’t see it. But I might. I really might. My house was built in the late 1800s before we knew what awaited below.There’s no way it can withstand that kind of violence.

After reading the following, I wonder what Michael will think about the head of FEMA in his state?

A new story from the Seattle Times reveals that it’s another Bush appointee who, like Michael Brown and Jim Allbaugh, has no previous experience in disaster management.

John Pennington, the official in charge of federal disaster response in the Northwest, was a four-term Republican state representative who ran a mom-and-pop coffee company in Cowlitz County when then-Congresswoman Jennifer Dunn helped him get his federal post.

Before he was appointed regional director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Pennington got a degree from a correspondence school that government investigators later described as a “diploma mill.”

And just in case you were wondering, yes, Bush did appoint him AFTER 9/11.

Shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, President Bush appointed Pennington to head the Region 10 office of FEMA, overseeing the government’s disaster response in Washington, Oregon, Alaska and Idaho. He makes $138,000 a year.

I’ve asked this before, but I’ll ask it again: Where are the qualified people to run our disaster relief organizations?

I mean, people, the more I learn about this…the more I just shake my head in disbelief. It simply doesn’t make any sense that Bush would appoint people with little to no experience to run these organizations. That is incompetent management, plain and simple. And if protecting us was top on his priority list, it certainly isn’t showing with these actions.

At this point you might be saying, “Well, but Bush had so much to do after 9/11. This person was hired by somebody else and he just okayed it.” All true, but this isn’t some small position folks. Like the article said, this guy is in charge of 4 states that have over 11.5 million people living in them. This is incredibly serious stuff and it hardly seems like it’s being considered.

Basically, I wish Bush would have given these people the traditional “friend” job of “Ambassador to (insert country name here)“, instead of placing the safety and security of millions in their hands. That’s what you do with political friends. You don’t make them heads of disaster relief organizations.

Switching grears for a moment, I want to talk more about this “diploma mill” Pennington got the college degree from. He obviously says that the college is the real deal. Last year the non-partisan General Accounting Office said that it wasn’t in this report.

The reasons?

The investigators were looking into California Coast and two other unaccredited schools that got $169,000 in taxpayer money to pay the tuition of 463 federal employees who enrolled as students.

That investigation did not involve Pennington, who received his degree before his FEMA appointment and paid for it himself. But GAO special agent Paul DeSaulniers told The Seattle Times this week that his investigation showed that California Coast University sold degrees for a flat fee.

California Coast obtained its federally recognized accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council only this past January, according to council Assistant Director Sally Welch.

“It was a pretty questionable school for a lot of years,” she said. “They had to make a lot of changes.”

So they just got their accreditation this year, but Pennington enrolled back in 1998 and got the degree before the college became legit.

But you know what? I wouldn’t care how this guy got an education if he had actual experience in disaster management. That’s the best education you can have and he had NONE.

And as this next passage reveals, there is one fairly obvious reason why he got the job.

Pennington said he did not seek the FEMA job, although he says he was interested in it. In 2000, he was the co-chairman of the Bush campaign in Cowlitz County, where Bush lost to Al Gore 49 percent to 46 percent.

Former GOP Rep. Dunn, who was Bush’s 2000 campaign chairwoman in Washington, recalled that she called Pennington and asked him to fill out an application for the FEMA job. She was responsible for screening and making recommendations on all regional political appointments.

Excuse me, the guy had to be asked to apply for a $138,000 a year job? So now we’re hiring people to head disaster relief organizations who aren’t even actively seeking the positions?

Let’s hope this appointment doesn’t endanger the good people of Idaho, Washington, Oregon and Alaska. And if you’re from any one of those states, what do you think after reading this? Do you think it’s good policy to hire somebody like Pennington?

And furthermore, is this a partisan issue or an issue of plain common sense?