There is story in today’s Washington Post that includes a Team Obama trial balloon for FEMA director that reminded me of that famous bit of Yogism I used in the post title in that James Lee Witt, Bill Clinton’s FEMA director is being looked at closely for the post.
On the surface Witt would seem like a great choice as his resume is packed full of skins on the wall. For the slabbed however it represents no real change at all. In fact Witt coming back to FEMA would represent more of the revolving door and the inherent problems associated with it.
We first ran across Mr Witt in his association with Allstate front group Protecting America.org. It is there you can find a press release from last Thursday that predicts a federal backstop will soon pass now that Obama will soon be President:
Edward T. Collins, a national director of ProtectingAmerica.org, the nation’s largest coalition of first responders, emergency management professionals, small and large businesses and 20,000 individual members dedicated to improving America’s preparation and protection from massive natural catastrophes, today told the National Conference of Insurance Legislators (NCOIL) that the nation and the states are poised to create financial backstops that will address the looming threat of record-breaking disaster losses without relying on bailouts from the federal taxpayers.
‘Tremendous progress has been made at the state and national levels to create a system of pre-funded financial backstops that will rely on private insurance company contributions to replace the after-the-fact taxpayer bailouts that have followed major catastrophes like hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Wilma and Ike,’ Collins told the NCOIL Subcommittee on Natural Disaster Insurance Legislation meeting in Duck Key, Florida today.
I personally found it ironic NCOIL was meeting in such posh surroundings as Hawk’s Cay Resort on Duck Key given the current controversy about traveling in style and partying while asking for taxpayer handouts but as the Protecting America press release illustrates the memo has been slow to be passed around. Cynics would say of course this is just another brazen illustration of arrogance. In fact taking cynicism a step further I’ll note that while Hawk’s Cay Resort is renowned for it’s Water Sports and Activities. Perhaps these people would not be so cavalier concerning current economic realities if they had to endure Water Sports of a different variety in being pissed on by FEMA and certain large Property and Casualty Insurance Companies.
It is also worth noting Mr Witt’s name and Protecting America.org’s name has surfaced on these pages before in the Perdigao saga, specifically his Racketeering Complaint against Adams and Reese (paragraph 80). Mr Perdigao has lots of time on his hands and he spent that time hacking into the Adams and Reese computer system digging documents that supported his allegations of wrong doing at Adams and Reese. Mr Perdigao was ultimately crushed for his own misdeeds but, as his leak to us of his Metropolitan Crime Commission Complaint against former Court of Appeals candidate and Adams and Reese partner Ronald Sholes illustrates he also had the good to back up his claims. Now his computers and all the documents are held by US Attorney Jim letten whom I’m fairly certain wants no part of the political hot potatoes thrown him by Jamie Perdigao.
In the post where we covered this connection I noted the Wall Street Journal was very aware of Mr Witt’s connections as a lobbyist for the insurance industry and of course, with the benefit of hindsight the ironies in the reporting are very delicious. Let’s take a short trip down memory lane to last June shall we and watch insurance industry lobbyist fight over who gets to dig their hands deeper into the US Treasury:
“This bill makes it a little bit too easy for the state to go to the federal government for a bailout,” said Eric Goldberg, associate general counsel at the American Insurance Association, an insurers’ trade group…….
To gin up national attention for the program, Allstate and State Farm have teamed up with the American Red Cross in an advocacy group, ProtectingAmerica.org, pushing for better emergency preparedness, providing disaster news and education to prevent lawsuits. The group also pushes for the federal program.
Red Cross says it didn’t lobby for the federal bill, and doesn’t take a position on it. Its interest in ProtectingAmerica is solely to encourage preparedness, it says.
The proposed plan is roughly analogous to the National Flood Insurance Program, which has been criticized for encouraging construction in risky floodplains. Nevertheless, in recent weeks the Senate voted to renew the flood-insurance program, and also to forgive $17 billion in debt incurred after Hurricane Katrina.
Critics cite that debt forgiveness as an example of how states with little or no hurricane risk can end up footing the bill for damage in flood-prone areas. “For years, federal flood-insurance backers told us the program was financially sound, but the storms of 2005 left it $17 billion in the hole,” said Steve Ellis of nonpartisan budget watchdog Taxpayers for Common Sense.
From my perspective as a taxpayer who (along with my children and grandchildren) will be paying the freight for bailing out these big companies I’ve seen very little common sense in the debate on providing coverage for the risks of living along America’s Coastline. How times have changed; just months ago we had the entire insurance industry along with their water boys in Congress bitching blue streak about a $17 billion dollar NFIP deficit while now the AIG bailout alone could fund a mutli peril solution many times over.
And into this breach President Elect Obama thrusts the name James Lee Witt for FEMA director into the public domain for our consideration. Is there any wonder we’re not receptive at Slabbed to Mr Witt for any position in the federal government. Simply put, we have no basis to trust him to look out for us little people instead of his paymasters in big insurance.
Second, there’s increasing talk that former director James Lee Witt, who took over the then-troubled agency at the start of the Clinton administration and left it eight years later with a much-enhanced reputation, is coming back from retirement to run FEMA for six months to a year, to whip it into shape.
After that, so the plan goes, his possible deputy administrator, Mark Merritt, who worked with Witt at James Lee Witt Associates — where they made a fortune on disasters — would take over the top job at FEMA.
The story continues:
Witt, however, is likely to be grilled about his work on Katrina relief. Witt and Merritt began their work in the days after the hurricane, when Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco (D) hired their disaster recovery firm with an open-ended no-bid contract.
An NBC News investigation of Louisiana records found that James Lee Witt Associates was paid more than $40 million for its work. Merritt, who had been the firm’s top manager in Louisiana, tallied $506,000 in billable hours over the 10-month span from September 2005 through June 2006, NBC News found in its July 2007 report.
The firm allegedly billed the state double what it actually paid its subcontractors, the report said. For instance, the firm subcontracted an Indiana company to manage recovery grants. That company’s workers were paid $19 to $20 an hour, but the company billed Witt Associates $37.50 an hour, and Witt Associates billed the state $75 an hour, according to the NBC report.
On the other hand, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) is said to have been most pleased with their work and intends to keep them on.
Maybe they’ll have a news conference with real reporters?
Our hope at Slabbed is that Mr President Elect would look elsewhere for his FEMA director. Lets make some noise on this one.