Sunday, September 11, 2005

Michael: Who's in charge of FEMA in Arizona?

It wasn’t long ago that the black helicopter crowd had a special place in their paranoid fantasies for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). FEMA was supposed to be the secretive government within the government that would assume dictatorial powers upon the advent of some manufactured crisis, setting in train the end of American democracy and constitutional government. There was even a great computer game, Deux Ex, based on the premise that FEMA lay at the center of a globalist conspiracy to dominate the world.

Now Americans have found out that far from being a secret cabal of uber-mensch, FEMA can barely tie their own shoes without dithering over whether the rabbit should first go through the hole or around the tree. Of course, conspiracy is the gift that keeps on giving, and even if FEMA is incompetent, there can be a nice conspiracy behind their failures, too.

But conspiracies and secret executive orders aside, Katrina makes it very clear that it really matters to citizens who is running the show at FEMA when the excrement hits the rotary atmospheric agitator. So who runs FEMA here in Arizona?

FEMA is split into regional directorships. Arizona is part of Region IX. Region IX embraces the States of Arizona, California, Hawaii and Nevada; and the Territory of American Samoa, the Territory of Guam, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, and the Republic of Palau. It is one of the largest territorial jurisdictions in the United States. The Region is currently managed by Acting Regional Director Karen E. Armes.

Before joining FEMA, Ms. Armes was director of the Business Management Department of the Navy Finance Center in San Francisco, a position assigned to her after the capitalization of the data automation centers by the Defense Information System Agency in 1994. Prior to that, she had served more than 10 years with that organization being promoted from budget analyst to the director of the Budget and Accounting Division and then director of the Management Support Division. She began there in 1982 as a NAVCOMPT financial management trainee.

Now, there is nothing wrong with being a bean-counter. Bean-counting is a noble and necessary calling. But I question the wisdom of having one directing an agency which is supposed to be the action figure of federal agencies. I don’t want some political hack bean-counter running a cost-benefit analysis of whether my liberal hide is worth pulling from under the rubble.

Ms. Armes holds a bachelor of science degree in recreation administration from Radford University, Va. She has also completed graduate courses in business administration at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. During the next tsunami is Ms. Armes going to organize synchronized swim teams?

Perhaps I’m being unfair. It is always possible that a person has grown into their job and picked up skills by applying them in the real world. I am willing to let Ms. Armes speak for herself on how she would handle a crisis in her region. Let’s listen in on a recent radio interview (Windows Media) in which Ms. Armes is asked about emergency management and how her branch of FEMA would perform.

Just one interesting snippet of a very enlightening interview:

Interviewer: How complicated is it, for example, to drop bottles of water on to the sidewalk outside the Convention Center?

Ms. Armes: I’m afraid I don’t… that’s not my specialty.

That’s not her specialty? What the hell is she doing running the show if delivering emergency relief to victims of disaster is not her specialty? The complete inability of Mrs. Armes to answer the simplest and most obvious questions about the duties of her agency in times of crisis with anything other than meaningless stock phrases of bureaucratese, means just one thing to me: I’m going to have to take a Halcyon to sleep soundly tonight.

Contact your Congresscritters and get this bean-counting, platitude-mouthing, PE coach out of this vital post on whom the safety of your family and community relies in extremis.


At 10:33 AM, Anonymous Leonard Clark said...

Michael, right on ! I am currently over in Iraq and am now reading in Stars and Stripes that alot of the Miss. National Guard soldiers were not given permission to go home to help fend for and protect their families. Granted, there were those who got emergency leave but that still didn't solve the problem that alot of Miss. Guardsmen still need to go back and strengthen and comfort their families.
Leonard Clark
Arizona Guardsman

At 12:20 PM, Blogger Michael said...


I was saddened, and rather pissed off, to hear about your punishment for expressing your political views. Thanks for stopping in.

At 12:21 PM, Blogger Michael said...

That reminds me, are you still planning to run against Kyl, and Pederson in the primary? If so, please get me a picture of yourself to add to my 'Democratic Challengers' list.

At 12:13 AM, Blogger Jack Benway said...


It seems to me that what was demonstrated recently was what happens without proper leadership. From the president down to the mayor of New Orleans, not a single player demonstrated the qualities of a good leader. That's why things went to pieces -- everybody at every level dropped the ball.

That being said, your criticism of Ms Ames isn't all that valid. She has no need to be acquainted with the specifics of dropping water bottles, no more than Rudy Juliani was acquainted with excavating rubble to rescue people. What is needed in her position in a disaster is the ability to lead, to take responsibitlity, to martial experts and effort toward a goal. She may be a leader, and she may not, but your criticisms of her are not at all valid.

At 8:29 AM, Anonymous gail davis said...

Benway, I disagree.

I have taken over management responsibility for areas in which I had no direct or immediate expertise. The first task is to determine what functions are within the scope of the position (that is what fncts one's boss views as included AND what fncts one's staff thinks is included).

As the manager, and additionally as a bean counter, how in the world wouldn't she know that delivering water might be a critical item within the scope of her job. The only way she wouldn't know some of the issues involved in getting water to people in a crises is if she never talked to anyone about anything related to potential dissasters.

Though I will grant that one answer to one question isn't enough in itself to condem her it is not encouraging either.

At 12:04 PM, Blogger shrimplate said...

Could she have given a more lame answer? No.

Any one of us would have immediately spouted off an improvised plan. She didn't. She just said "I am a big doofus" instead.

So what does that tell you?

We need to put the adults back in charge. Enough of this crap.

At 3:01 PM, Blogger Joel Gaines said...

I agree with Gail. She should at least have a 30,000 ft. view understanding that she could convey in an interview. If nothing else, she could have said, "Well, it really depends on the situation, but it's not the most difficult task we would have to face." And then launch into something she DOES know about.

Regardless of her lack of savvy as a interviewee, the fact remains that she is one of the few directors with what appears to be zero emergency management experience. I believe this to be the over-riding point of the original post. I did check the other regional directors and most of them have some sort of experience handling emergency crises.

Furthermore, if one of my peers just had his butt handed to him on a paper plate for not knowing what he was doing, I would probably have a meeting with subordinate leaders and stakeholders the very next day and ensure I had at least a working knowledge of "what if".

The thing that got me was, being a "bean counter" you'd think she would know exactly how to get x number of bottles of water onto a sidewalk somewhere.


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