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Wednesday, September 21, 2005

More Michael Browns

More Michael Browns

By now, the nation has become familiar with the story of Michael Brown, the inexperienced former head of FEMA who oversaw an agency that was disastrously slow in responding to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. A friend of former FEMA director Joe Allbaugh, Brown has spent the previous 11 years as the Judges and Stewards Commissioner for the International Arabian Horse Association, a position from which he was forced to resign after numerous lawsuits were filed against the organization. While Brown has become the familiar face of "Bush administration cronyism," there are plenty of recent examples of inexperienced personnel filling key posts throughout the Bush administration. Should President Bush fail to take control over this growing problem, he'll continue to put the health and safety of Americans at risk.

IMMIGRATION ENFORCEMENT NOMINEE LACKS EXPERIENCE IN THE FIELD: The Bush administration's choice to head the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency is a 36-year old lawyer with "little immigration or customs experience." ICE is one component that completes Border and Transportation Security underneath the greater jurisdiction of the Department of Homeland Security and Secretary Michael Chertoff. Julie Myers' lack of experience led Sen. George Voinovich to state at her confirmation hearing: "I'd really like to have [Chertoff] spend some time with us, telling us personally why he thinks you're qualified for the job, because based on the résumé, I don't think you are." (Voinovich later recanted his objections after talking privately with Myers and Chertoff). To resolve worries about her lack of experience, Myers said that she pledges to "work with those who are more knowledgeable." Myers retains strong political connections to make up for her lack of professional experience. Her uncle is Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs; she is married to John Wood, Chertoff's current chief of staff; and, she served as an associate under former independent counsel Ken Starr.

CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER FALSIFIED CONTINUING EDUCATION CREDENTIALS: The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) reassigned a high-ranking Medicare officer after it discovered that he "falsified documents concerning his continuing education." Sean Tunis was formerly the chief medical officer at the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, a role that placed him in charge of reviewing and implementing all medical issues that arose in the administration of Medicare and Medicaid. Tunis's medical license was suspended last May for at least a year by the Maryland Board of Physicians, and he had been placed on administrative leave since April. HHS recently reassigned him to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality without discussing why the transfer was made. "I regret having made mistakes in handling my (continuing education) records, but I am now pleased to be moving forward into a new phase of my career," Tunis said. Tunis has been placed on a list of personnel who are excluded from doing business with federal health programs.

FDA APPOINTED VETERINARIAN TO HEAD OFFICE OF WOMEN'S HEALTH: The Bush administration recently attempted to appoint an "FDA veteran trained in animal husbandry who spent much of his career in the agency's Center for Veterinary Medicine" to oversee the Office of Women's Health. Animal husbandry is the agricultural practice of breeding and raising livestock. The Office of Women's Health is charged with working to "improve the health and well-being of women and girls in the United States." Three days after the Food and Drug Administration announced the appointment of Norris Alderson, the FDA press office sent out a new announcement stating another individual, Theresa Toigo, would head the office. The FDA claimed there was "no official decision" made to hire Alderson, the animal husbandrist. But a membership directory on the office's website listed him as "acting director" (the web page has since been edited).

OTHER INEXPERIENCED BUSH APPOINTEES: The Bush administration has made a number of other hiring decisions that have raised eyebrows. Jay Hallen, a 24-year old undergraduate who majored in political science and "rarely watched financial news stations and didn't follow the stock market," was chosen to rebuild the Iraq Stock Exchange. Gay Hart Gaines, "an interior decorator by training," was chosen to sit on the Corporation for Public Broadcasting’s Board of Directors. And as the Progress Report previously noted, David Safavian, former White House procurement official who is now under arrest, came to his position with little relevant experience.

Under the Radar

ETHICS -- FRIST SOLD FAMILY STOCKS RIGHT BEFORE PRICE DROPPED: Stock prices for Hospital Corporation of America (HCA) fell 15 percent in late July, but not before Sen. Majority Leader Bill Frist unloaded his family's shares. HCA is the nation's largest for-profit hospital chain, founded by Frist's father and directed by Frist's brother, who is also a leading stockholder. The senator sold his shares in the corporation by July 1, two weeks before the prices fell, followed by the shares of his wife and children by July 8. His spokeswoman explained Frist's decision to sell his stocks as an attempt to "avoid any appearance of conflict of interest [with his work in the Senate]" and that the reason he chose that particular moment to sell as "he's [never] been worried about it in the past." HCA has donated a total of $83,450 since 1989 to the senator's campaigns. Trading on insider information is illegal.

KATRINA -- FEMA HAS ICE TRUCKS "GOING AROUND IN CIRCLES": The Gloucester Daily Times, a small paper based in Massachusetts' Cape Cod region, reported today that nearly two dozen ice trucks have been sitting on Rogers Street in Gloucester waiting to see where FEMA would send them next. Trucks from across the country have driven thousands of miles moving huge shipments of ice at FEMA's direction. The ice seems to be going everywhere but the Gulf Coast. One truck driver said, "We've done jobs for FEMA before, but never to this extent where you sit and sit and sit. I just drove 1,300 miles to dump ice in Gloucester. This has to be the stupidest thing I have ever done." Portland, Maine is also expecting nearly 200 trucks to be idling in their city by the end of the week. A FEMA spokeswoman said of the fiasco, "Sometimes we have more ice and water that was ordered than is necessary. ... Unfortunately the truckers don't quite understand that."

IRAQ -- HALLIBURTON SERVES CONTAMINATED WATER TO TROOPS: Not only did Halliburton's KBR subsidiary serve U.S. troops in Iraq spoiled food (sometimes a year past the expiration date), but also contaminated water from Iraq's Euphrates River, containing "numerous pathogenic organisms" at nearly two times the normal contamination levels of untreated water. "[R]aw sewage is routinely dumped less than two miles from the water intake location." KBR water quality specialists reported their concerns, but were told by their superiors that their claims were "erroneous" and "corrective measures" had been taken, with no evidence anything had been done. Two whistleblowers resigned because of "unsafe water and pressure to cover it up" (one became sick from the drinking water) and another expects to be terminated soon.

BUDGET -- PELOSI OFFERS TO RETURN TRANSPORTATION FUNDING TO HELP HURRICANE VICTIMS: Despite Rep. Don Young's unwillingness to give up Alaska's $721 million in transportation pork, House Minority Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi has offered to return to the federal Treasury $70 million in highway and transportation funding for San Francisco to aid the rebuilding of the Gulf Coast. House Majority Leader Rep. Tom DeLay still refuses to give up his district's portion of the of the behemoth transportation bill (at least $64.4 million), insisting that his "earmarks are pretty important to that region." DeLay has not even promised to honor Pelosi's request to return her funding, saying unenthusiastically that he'll "take a look" at that option.

KATRINA -- LAWMAKERS USE TRAGEDY TO REVIVE BAD POLICY: In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, lawmakers of all political stripes have used the "political climate suddenly altered by the hurricane to try to advance long-stalled, sometimes controversial initiatives." For example, Texas conservative Rep. Joe L. Barton is once again fighting to open up fragile coastal regions to offshore oil drilling, an idea that languished in Congress earlier this year. "If there is a silver lining [to the disaster], and I'm not saying that there is, but if there is, it may be that our country is beginning to realize how fragile our energy sector is," Barton said. Meanwhile, bills that could improve future disaster relief efforts have died. The Senate rejected a bill authorizing $1.5 billion to improve communications equipment, even though Sen. Bill Frist had said that while in New Orleans, "people could not communicate from one side of that room to the other."

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