Friday, September 23, 2005

When Cronyism Kills!: FEMA Subcontracted out NO evacuation to incompetent Bush-backer

Chalk a few hundred more bodies onto the count of what Grover Norquist and his "privatization at all costs" ideology has cost this country

Today's Today's Chicago Tribune tells the story of Thousands of Motorcoaches Offered to FEMA The day after Katrina hit NO.  Unfortunately,  FEMA didn't return their phone calls :

Peter Pantuso of the American Bus Association said he spent much of the day on Wednesday, Aug. 31, trying to find someone at the Federal Emergency Management Agency who could tell him how many buses were needed for an evacuation, where they should be sent and who was overseeing the effort.

"We never talked directly to FEMA or got a call back from them," Pantuso said.

But as bad as that is the WHY of it is far, far,  worse:

Pantuso, eventually learned that the job of extracting tens of thousands of residents from flooded New Orleans wasn't being handled by FEMA at all.

Instead the agency had farmed the work out to a trucking logistics firm, Landstar Express America, which in turn hired a limousine company, which in turn engaged a travel management company.

Mad yet?  You will be:


 This story follows a depressingly familiar script:

1)A vital government service is taken away from the Government employees who have handled it competently and efficiently for years and farmed out to a barely qualified, but politically well connected  private company with for a huge sum of money:

Landstar, {a} Jacksonville company ... held a federal contract that at the time was worth up to $100 million annually for disaster transportation

and Landstar was Well Connected:

Landstar Express is a subsidiary of Landstar System, a $2 billion company whose board chairman, Jeff Crowe, also was chairman of the    U.S. Chamber of Commerce, one of the nation's premier business lobbies, from June 2003 until May 2004.

Yes THAT US Chamber of Commerce, the one that's Spent millions creating/supporting Bushco policies

2) After taking a huge amount of government money; do nothing but count your profits. Don't worry about acutally performing on your contract until its too late:

Though it was well-known that New Orleans, much of it below sea level, would flood in a major hurricane, Landstar, ... did not ask its subcontractor, Carey Limousine, to order buses until the early hours of Aug. 30, roughly 18 hours after the storm hit,

But then,  calling Carey Limousine a "subcontractor" gives Landstar WAY too much credit, as it implies some sort of prior business arrangement.  The reality is far far worse:

[Sally Snead a senior Carey Vice president] said Landstar turned to her company for buses Sunday after learning from Carey's Internet site that it had a meetings and events division that touted its ability to move large groups of people. "They really found us on the Web site," Snead said.

THEY FOUND THEM ON THE WEB!!!!! DURING THE HURRICANE!!!!  THAT  was the extensive and thorough planning and vetting process Landstar used before deciding to award this company a "subcontract" to do this vitally important job!

Let that sink in for a good few minutes.    Deep cleansing breaths. Get that blood pressure down.  Ready? Okay:

In other words:

this Company signed a $100 Million contract to provide disaster relief services  and then did precisely, and exactly,  NOTHING to prepare to actually provide those services should they be needed.  

Even when the largest hurricane in a decade is headed straight for the most vulnerable and poorest city in America, they do NOTHING.  It's Only DURING the Hurricane on Sunday while New Orleans is being ripped apart that somebody at the company remembers "oh Yeah, I think we're supposed to do something when Hurricanes hit".  

  Then, and only then they   leap into action and apparently assign some office flunky the job of Asking Jeeves "how do I get thousands of people the hell out of Dodge during an Apocalypse?". They follow this decisve and bold actions with an extremely crack and efficient phone call to a few places to do some price shopping  before finally deciding what to do.  (It's amazing they didn't try to rent 1000 buses on Priceline first)

Give the "Subcontractor" credit, they DID try to help:

Snead said she tapped Transportation Management Services of Vienna, Va., which specializes in arranging buses for conventions and other large events, to help fill an initial order for 300 coaches.

"It's like taking your phone book and dividing it in half and saying, `You take half and I'll take half,'" Snead said.

But while they are desperately seeking a few hundred buses (and lets just acknowledge how woefully inadequate 300 buses would have been for 80,000 people);  Literally thousands of buses are ready and standing by, with drivers, waiting for  someone to tell them where to go:

Unbeknownst to them, two key players who could reach the owners of an estimated 70 percent of the nation's 35,000 charter and tour buses had contacted FEMA seeking to supply coaches to the evacuation effort.

The day the hurricane made landfall, Victor Parra, president of the United Motorcoach Association, called FEMA's Washington office "to let them know our members could help out."

and Fema's lightning fast and oh-so-brilliant response?:

Parra said FEMA responded the next day, referring him to an agency Web page labeled "Doing Business with FEMA" but containing no information on the hurricane relief effort.

So let's review one last time:  Flood waters rising, 10's of thousand of trapped an desperate people Stuck in New Orleans.  

FEMA, not only is not springing into action, they've actually subcontracted that whole rescuing people thing out.  

The Subcontractor takes the decisive actions of hiring thier own subcontractor, a Limo Company at the last minute.  They scarmble as best they can to scrounge up a few hundred buses.

Meanwhile Thousands of huge  Motor coaches are ready, willing and able to rush to the disaster site and effect a rescue, but every time they are offered, FEMA gives the caller the modern equivalent of the Voice mail.  Thanks to "privatization" nobody is able to connect the offer to the desperate need.

Back in New Orleans, dozens, perhaps even hundreds of desperate people needlessly die, hundreds more are raped and assaulted while waiting in the dark for rescue.

AND for this spectacularly incompetent performance when lives were on the line, what can we expect for Landstar? Indictments? Civil court suits?  A cancellation of all government contracts?  The CEO doing the perp walk?  

Boy you really haven't been paying attention in the last five years have you?

In a regulatory filing last week, Landstar Express said it has received government orders worth at least $125 million for Katrina-related work. ..... Landstar's regulatory filing also said that because of Hurricane Katrina, the maximum annual value of its government contract for disaster relief services has been increased to $400 million

In this story we see the basic Republican SOP in full and glorious action: larceny masquerading as ideology. Vital government Functions and trusts are treated as nothing more than fat piggy banks to be raided by corporate allies and campaign supporters.   That these jobs are important and people will die if they aren't done well, never seems to trouble either the public or private members of the Kleptocratic administration.

Its an sequence of events that we've seen repeated everywhere from Iraq (Halliburton, Custer-Battles, Blackwater etc. ad nauseam) to Kuwait, to our very own Gulf Coast.  Rarely however has it been so nakedly obvious what happened and rarely have the consequences been so utterly disastrous as they were for those tens of thousands of people trapped by Katrina, and abandoned by their own government.  If this isn't enough to wake people up to the utter ruin that Bushco has made of our once powerful country, what will be?


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