Monday, February 13, 2006

You can't have it both ways

I remember the feeling: No matter what you do somebody's going to find fault.

Some of the people coming in to apply for financial assistance were ticked off that we couldn't resolve their problem — whatever it was — immediately with no questions asked. It didn't matter to them whether or not they were eligible, if what they wanted us to pay for was totally insane or we even did what they expected us to do. They wanted — whatever it was — NOW.

We didn't work that way. A local government agency with a limited budget, we had rules and regulations to follow to ensure, as best we could, that the public's funds were spent legally and wisely on the basic needs (shelter, electricity and water and food for one month) on those who were income eligible, had no resources to fall back upon, were in the jam through no fault of their own, and had no place else to turn. It's a time-consuming process.

So the Unhappy Person would go to city hall. Somebody there would call us and raise hell, especially if the Unhappy Person said that they were going to go to the media or already had. That's the way it is in a political climate and I served time worked under five different administrations.

Some were better than others. They understood what our role was and backed our decisions. Others were so worried about the possibility of bad press they'd pick up the phone to beat us up pretty darned hard. That was just the mayor's office.

The councilcritters (and some congresscritters) were pure hell, especially when the Unhappy Person mentioned the media. Instead of being worried about bad press, this was an opportunity for them to star in a self-promoting, manufactured media event in which they were the SOLE person in the entire world who was willing to fight big-bad local government on the Unhappy Person's behalf.

Once a year the city's auditors would come in to do what auditors do and are supposed to do. Make sure that the funds appropriated were spent in accordance with rules and regulations and all applicable laws yadda yadda. Money came in, it went out. Where's the receipts, the canceled checks, and the paperwork to justify why this case was approved and the expenditures authorized.

And, of course, if the audit reported all eyes hadn't been dotted and teas crossed, the media was jolly on the spot because as much as they love stories about big bad government being mean to someone, they love doing stories about governmental ineptitude or malfeasance even more.

I'd like you to keep all of that in mind when it comes to the FEMA reporting.

I'm definitely not saying its performance has been flawless. Some of it, quite frankly, has been abysmal. One example is requiring first responders who were coming in from other states, to undergo sexual harassment training before they could be deployed. That's insane. It's bureaucracy run amok.

Still, I've been sitting here shaking my head when on the news, FEMA's been getting slammed from Day One for not responding fast enough after Katrina. There's really nothing really new here, because the same thing was said the year before about FEMA and its response in Florida after the state was hit by four hurricanes in six weeks.

Later, FEMA got slammed because some of the things it paid for weren't actually related to any of the hurricanes OR because it cut checks to slimebugs who were only taking advantage of the situation.

And now, Katrina.

You can't have it both ways.

You either slow the process down to a crawl at the front end to allow for eligibility determination, or you just toss help at anyone and everyone asking for it based on their own statement of need and don't worry about later accountability.

Neither one is good. I'm not saying either one is. But when all hell breaks loose, what do we want?

In a mass disaster situation, are we willing to accept long lines of people who might desperately need help standing there, waiting for days on end (or weeks and even months) so that each individual's eligibility can be established and verified in order to discourage the slimebugs from taking advantage of the situation? Or, hoping that as much help as possible is being made available in the fastest possible way, are we willing to accept that it also goes to the slimebugs who are simply taking advantage?

I don't know the answer. I don't know if there is one, but this I do:

You can't have it both ways.


Blogger GUYK said...

Thanks Doyle. Well said. The problem wasn't so much FEMA as it was a hidden society of bums in New Orleans that had been living off the taxpayers for generations and had never made a decision for themselves. Now after six months of living in subsidized high priced hotels they are screaming again because they were only given $1800 to go find a place to live. What is the hell have they been doing for the past six months? I have friends here that have gone to New Orleans to work because they cannot find enough local help there. And these bums want me-a taxpayer to pay for a hotel room until the taxpayers get their free housing rebuilt? As Dax Montana says. Just Damn.

8:21 AM  

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