Sunday, January 28, 2007

The parallel between Katrina and Iraq

"It's been almost 17 months since Hurricane Katrina pounded coastal Mississippi and southeastern Louisiana, and about a year since Congress authorized the bulk of its rebuilding aid for the region... But review of the devastated region shows that rebuilding is in a deep stall."

- The Wall Street Journal

When I read the above quote in Saturday's WSJ I was immediately reminded of news media coverage of the rebuilding of Iraq and how Haliburton was screwing everything up. Here we have major problems in spending money to rebuild a devastated area in the United States. Imagine the difficulties in spending the same money under Congressional rules, oversight and "gotcha" media coverage in the middle of a combat zone.

In my civilian job I work for the Florida State Emergency Response Team, the best state team in the nation (we're not smarter than everyone else, we just have had more practice). The Director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management, Craig Fugate, has said on many occasions that emergency responses can be performed cheaply, efficiently or quickly. You must pick one of these three choices to perform your response. In Florida we respond quickly, because that is what our citizens want. This type of response is neither cheap nor efficient.

In Iraq in 2003 we were also looking for a quick response to the problems we were encountering. We felt that people were dying because we weren't spending money fast enough but the federal bean counters showed up to slow us down and protect the taxpayers dollar. I remember, at the time (November 2003), asking myself: How in the hell are these Iraqi contractors going to figure out the U.S. federal bidding system? I mean, they were requesting bids like they wanted these contractors to build a Post Office in Tallahassee, Florida. It was insane.

I was ready to accept inefficiency in the allocation of contracts in order to gain speed. What I wasn't ready to accept, and what shocked me when I found out, is that some of my coworkers (some even Army officers) were stealing for their personal gain. Inefficiency - yes, stealing - no.

8 comments:

  1. Jamie1:07 AM

    You say, "In my civilian job" like you're a CIA agent. That's all.

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  2. Anonymous9:09 PM

    You say you were shocked to find out about the theft in Iraq.What did you do when you found out? Did you report what you knew? Who did you report it to, and when? Jan

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  3. I think the parallel between reconstruction efforts in Iraq and Katrina is very useful. In your book I think you mention the catch-22 between economy and security - which comes first, where should resources be directed first. It seems like a simultaneous approach is required. Any anecdotes on successes in this respect, however small?
    Also, I'd be interested in a post about cilivian and military cooperation on the ground in Iraq - since you had one foot in each camp, so to speak.

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  4. I did not find out about the theft until I returned home from Iraq. Some of this fraud took place in the office where I worked, without my knowledge. I will address my version of this story in more detail in a future post.

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  5. I did not find out about the theft until I returned home from Iraq. Some of this fraud took place in the office where I worked, without my knowledge. I will address my version of this story in more detail in a future post.

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  6. Anonymous2:18 PM

    Thank you for your response. My sister is Lt Col Debra Harrison. She speaks highly of you and the short time you worked together at CPA-SC. Debra didn't know anything about the activities of a few individuals until she returned home either. After the air clears, she will be able to comment on the situation as well. Thank you again. Jan

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  7. Jan: I read the recent indictment in which Debra Harrison and her husband are named. The indictment quotes emails by Deb to and from the other conspiritors. I understand innocence until conviction but this is a very damning indictment.

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  8. Anonymous9:37 PM

    Michael: The emails cited are taken out of context. Her comments about the auditors were made because she didn't believe there was anything wrong, and therefore there was nothing for them to find. It's the same kind of comment I might make to my husband while the IRS audits our tax returns.

    Her thanks for the car was genuine. Debra didn't know there was anything wrong with the gift. If that were the case, she certainly would never have paid taxes on it. She saw Bloom give cars to just about everyone else there. She thought he was just a rich guy showing gratitude for hard work. She never met him and never did anything for him.

    Debra broke inside after Captain Montgomery was injured and went home. She didn't know who to trust. She was with strangers. She couldn’t sleep. She took every pill Stein gave her, and drank every drop of alcohol she could get. She worked to numb herself. She wanted to die, but not in Iraq. After you left there was no one she could remotely consider her CO.

    It was so dangerous at that time that the Department of Justice Auditors were too afraid to come to Hillah to go through the papers. They told my sister to bring it all to them in the safety of the Green Zone. No one reported to my sister, and she had no one to report to. How in the world was she to get that huge amount of information to Baghdad from Hillah by herself. She couldn’t do it.

    I do know that she was abandoned by the United States when she was told to find her own way home. She received an email telling her there was no room for her on the cargo plane for her return. There was room for every CPA person scheduled to leave from Bagdad, but not my sister and four other soldiers. Yet, part of the indictment against her says she used a plane ticket purchased with CPA money. She did not purchase that ticket, but she did use it. It was her only way out, and she was ordered to use that ticket.

    She had to depend on the very people who constituted this fraud to get out of the country alive. She depended on them for her transportation to Kuwait City to catch the flight. One word from any of them, and Debra would have been an American officer in Iraq with no unit, no orders, and no way out. It was a death sentence.

    Captain Montgomery kept after Debra when she returned home to get help. She suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and receives treatment for that disorder through the VA. She has a 40% disability.

    Hold off on any criticism of any soldier accused in this mess. I know for a fact that the accusations against my sister are false. No matter what the Department of Justice asserts. Keep in mind, they are the same people who vetted Robert J Stein to be in carge of the CPA-SC operation. My sister certainly didn’t know that the man who told her what to do was a convicted felon.

    I am not able to be more specific about any other part of this yet, but I will keep you informed as I am able.

    I believe if you'd still been there my sister would have never been implicated or involved in any of this. I don't believe you would have permitted any soldier to be told to find their own way home from Iraq.

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