Representative Gus Bilirakis of Florida has been named Chairman of the Homeland Security Subcommittee on Emergency Communications, Preparedness, and Response. This would put him in charge of overseeing FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency. You may recall that, during his previous tenure as lead Republican on the Homeland Security Subcommittee on Management, Investigations, and Oversight, Bilirakis discovered FEMA issued a million-dollar grant for firefighting to ACORN, the notorious “community organization” that knew little about fire prevention, but was highly adept at filling out bogus voter registration forms and teaching pimps how to evade taxes. That was some impressive spade work from Bilirakis. I can hardly wait to see what he does with the jackhammer his caucus just handed him.
“The Department of Homeland Security must continue to improve its communication and emergency preparedness, and since valuable taxpayer dollars are at stake, I will make certain it does so as efficiently and effectively as possible,” Bilirakis said in a statement. “As chairman, I will continue to ensure the safety of our nation and enhance the way in which we respond and prepare for disasters.”
The new Chairman comes from a state that does quite a bit of business with FEMA, being one of the southeastern states that make up the summer hurricane pinball machine. The Deepwater Horizon oil spill last year was also a matter of great concern for Florida.
FEMA has been embroiled in plenty of scandals besides funneling money to ACORN. It has often been viewed with suspicion because of its vast emergency powers, secretive habits, and distressing lack of fiscal discipline. Its reputation took a massive hit due to the wide perception of poor performance in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, my favorite incident being its decision to house hurricane refugees in trailers that had been treated with formaldehyde.
In 2007, the agency invited both controversy and ridicule by holding a fake press conference, in which FEMA employees pretended to be reporters – something they attributed to scheduling mistakes instead of a desire to deceive the public, which is a tough sell to a public long accustomed to government deception. The agency get snookered by a lot of fraudulent disaster relief claims, although in fairness they’re not in Medicare’s league when it comes to being taken by con artists.
FEMA also scored a spot in Senator Tom Coburn’s “Wastebook 2010,” for blowing $45,000 on peppering coastal Texas with alarming signs that show how high the water would be if a 25-foot storm surge rolled in. This did wonders for property values in a critically injured real-estate market.
Bilirakis also gets to oversee the beloved Transportation Security Agency, a responsibility he inaugurated by writing TSA Administrator John Pistole to ask why those intrusive patdowns and billon-dollar porno-scanners keep failing to detect illegal and dangerous items. It’s a dirty job, but it looks like the new Republican House picked the right guy to do it.