Saturday, December 10, 2005

But I Will Find Him When He Lies Asleep, And in his Ear I'll Holla "James Lee Witt!"

O.K., that's a tad over the top but sometimes it's a choice between anger and depression. Reading this:

A week after announcing in a news release that the state Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness could collect up to $26.1 million for the services provided by James Lee Witt Associates, FEMA withdrew the authorization and questioned whether the state acted properly in awarding the contract.

In a Dec. 5 letter to Col. Jeff Smith, Blanco's official representative to FEMA, federal officials asked whether James Lee Witt Associates got the contract on a noncompetitive basis, and whether any other companies were invited to apply

in the Picayune today, I had to wonder what prompted FEMA's actions. For FEMA to question whether a contract was awarded on a noncompetitive basis would be rich enough, but I believe that contract was awarded in early September (the story doesn't say) when FEMA wasn't bidding anything. Even if not, I can't imagine anyone more qualified than James Lee Witt.

It's possible that this is just another example of FEMA's inconsistency and the matter will be dropped next week. Could be part of the ongoing squabble between the state and Washington, though there may be reason to suspect that some venality is involved:

Even so, James Lee Witt Associates was not the only company considered for the job, according to the letter.
Blanco and her chief counsel, Terry Ryder, contacted several other firms and interviewed Joseph Allbaugh, who was head of FEMA from 2001-03 and is now a consultant.
State officials ultimately decided that Allbaugh, who managed President Bush's 2000 campaign, wasn't cut out for the job.

But I prefer to think that FEMA's action has something to do with the agency's reputation under Witt and then under later directors. Under Witt the agency was, at the very least, considered competent. Now, under David Paulison, the agency has done little to lose its reputation for being, at the very least, dysfunctional. I suspect that in parts of Washington the name James Lee Witt might as well be Mortimer. Don't think I'll bother having that starling taught to speak.

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