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    Success of ‘going negative’ changes campaign strategies
    [ # ] The Politics of Disasters
    March 8th, 2007 under Uncategorized, Dole Fellows



    The following is a previously published article that mentions our current Republican Spring Semester Fellow Scott Morris, Director of Florida Long Term Recovery and a Kansas University Graduate.


    Star Banner Editorial
    Published Oct 10, 2005
    OUR OPINION: Support for our favorite whipping boys

    The Federal Emergency Management Agency has been a favorite punching bag lately. And why not? First, there was the tragically tardy response to Hurricane Katrina, witnessed by the whole world. Then revelations surfaced about the qualifications — or lack thereof — of erstwhile horse show referee and former agency director Michael Brown.

    More recently, we’ve been treated to news about FEMA’s nearly $1.5 billion in no-bid contracts (now apparently up for bid) to a few select contractors, including, no surprise, Halliburton; about the agency’s ice follies, wherein millions of pounds of ice, purchased for three times the amount, was trucked at full expense to disaster sites like Idaho, Maryland and Maine for fear of melting, instead of being delivered to hurricane survivors. And forget about the quarter-billion-dollar cruise ships to nowhere that sit relatively empty.

    The masters of disasters in Washington are in hot water with a steaming Congress, but a recent meeting in Ocala provided reason to hope that at least one arm of FEMA is straightened out.

    Marion County Public Works Director Larry Thacker invited U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson and representatives of the Florida Association of Counties to meet with Orlando-based FEMA troops. The session at the Elks Lodge was punctuated by one question from county officials from Miami to the Panhandle to Scott Morris, chief of the long-term recovery effort in Florida: where’s our money?

    The answer: it’s on the way. Guaranteed.

    Nelson, a Democrat, took the obligatory shot at Brown. He said FEMA suffered from a “lack of leadership and poor management,” adding that the agency was now run by a “real professional,” R. David Paulison, a former fire chief in Miami.

    But Nelson also captured the sentiment of the many frustrated county officials in saying he was “personally appreciative” of Morris and his work since taking over in May. Nelson noted a “whole new atmosphere” at FEMA — one that, if continued, could remake the agency’s beleaguered image here.

    What’s different? Well, Morris is not a nomad. He told the county representatives that he moved his family to Orlando and will be in Florida for a minimum of three years. Morris said he’s done the same with his top advisers. That will provide stability that Thacker and others have longed complained was absent.

    Morris also has dumped staffers who aren’t customer oriented. In an interview after the meeting, Morris told us he has slashed the staff by a third, curtailing the potential for runaround, is holding people accountable for their decisions and has shifted staff thinking from adversarial to advocacy. He added that he seeks out “disgruntled” employees, ones who feel frustrated by FEMA’s old way of doing business and who want to offer fresh ideas.

    Probably most important to local governments and the taxpayers who support them, Morris personally vowed that they’d be reimbursed, or at least have bankable commitments for repayment from FEMA, for 90 percent of what they’re owed by next Saturday. He pointed out that FEMA had changed its reimbursement procedure here, and since May has doled out $1.9 billion — compared to the $900 million disbursed between last August and May.

    Morris was savvy enough to offer what large numbers of Floridians, at least subconsciously, want to hear: an apology. In fact, Morris apologized profusely in acknowledging his outfit’s dismal performance after last year’s four hurricanes.

    Thacker and Nelson seem pleased with the new direction. Based on their review, perhaps FEMA, at least here in Florida, has righted its foundering ship.

    We commend Morris for changing the climate and the thinking at FEMA’s Florida operation. We also praise him for something we see too little of from the federal government today: standing up to admit mistakes and making an honest effort to correct those mistakes to ensure they don’t happen again.

    FEMA has troubles, and fixing them won’t be easy. Still, let’s hope Congress, especially representatives from the storm-riddled Gulf states, continues to demand reform and accountability. We only ask that you don’t begin by taking Scott Morris out of Florida.

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