Sunday, September 25, 2005

The Enron Era

Frank Rich is excellent in his latest New York Times column about the Bush administration's hiring choices:

As recently as 10 days ago, when he resigned before his arrest, Mr. Safavian was the man who set purchasing policy for the entire federal government, including that related to Hurricane Katrina relief. The White House might as well have appointed a contestant from "The Apprentice." Before entering public service, Mr. Safavian's main claim to fame was as a lobbyist whose clients included Indian gaming interests and thuggish African regimes. Mr. Safavian now faces charges of lying and obstructing the investigation of Mr. Abramoff, the Tom DeLay-Ralph Reed-Grover Norquist pal who is being investigated by more agencies than looked into 9/11. Mr. Abramoff's greasy K Street influence-peddling network makes the Warren Harding gang, which operated out of its own infamous "little green house on K Street," look like selfless stewards of the public good.

You know that the arrest of Mr. Safavian, one of three known Abramoff alumni to migrate into the administration, is the start of something big. Alberto Gonzales's Justice Department announced it only after Mr. Safavian had appeared in court and had been released without bail. The gambit was clearly intended to keep the story off television, and it worked.

It won't for long. The Enron odor emanating from Mr. Safavian is of a piece with the rest of the cronyism in the Katrina preparedness package. The handing off of FEMA from President Bush's 2000 campaign manager, Joe Allbaugh, to Mr. Allbaugh's even less qualified buddy, Michael Brown, in 2003 is now notorious. (The two men have been friends for 25 years but were not college roommates, as I wrote here last week.) But that's only the beginning: the placement of hacks like "Brownie" and Mr. Safavian in crucial jobs hasn't been slowed one whit by what went down on their watch in New Orleans.

Witness the nomination of Julie Myers as the new head of immigration and customs enforcement at the Homeland Security Department. Though the White House attacked the diplomat Joseph Wilson for nepotism because he undertook a single pro bono intelligence mission while his wife was at the C.I.A., it thought nothing of handing this huge job to a nepotistic twofer: Ms. Myers is the niece of Gen. Richard Myers and has just married the chief of staff for the homeland security secretary, Michael Chertoff. Her qualifications for running an agency with more than 20,000 employees and a $4 billion budget include serving as an associate counsel under Kenneth Starr; in that job, she helped mastermind the costly and doomed prosecution of Susan McDougal, and was outwitted at every turn by the defense lawyer Mark Geragos.

Rich goes on to list example after example of very similar hiring choices. Did you know that the Iraq reconstruction process was largely in the hands of inexperienced twenty-somethings whose only relevant experience was being an avid wingnut? Or that being a fundraiser for Bush or his cronies will get you almost any job in this administration, never mind what your actual qualifications might be?

All this might be logical, of course. A party which doesn't believe in the government might well try to run it to ground by appointing lots of really unsuitable people to run things, including FEMA and the reconstruction of Iraq. And friends will always be rewarded, naturally.

But this leaves us taxpayers paying for a party which we were not invited to attend. Even worse, we are expected to pay for the after-party clean-up, too.
Sadly, the Rich column is now available only in exchange for payment or from the paper edition. But Google is your friend.