California Editorial Rdp

Dec. 12

The Press Democrat on Congress and the president needing to fix FEMA:

The Federal Emergency Management Agency continues to mismanage disaster contracting, according to federal auditors. To paraphrase the Roman poet Juvenal, Quis procurabit ipsos procuratores? (Who will manage the managers?) If FEMA won’t reform willingly, Congress and the president must make it.

A report by the Government Accountability Office calls out FEMA for ineffective management of advance contracts. Those are contracts set up before a disaster with private companies to supply goods and services in the aftermath — food, water, tents, blankets, debris-removing equipment, etc.

During disaster recovery, the last thing anyone should be doing is negotiating contracts. Advance contracts get that out of the way so that, in theory, FEMA and its contractors can react nimbly and cost-effectively.

In 2017, FEMA advance contracts locked in $4.5 billion to respond to the California wildfires and three hurricanes.

With that much money at stake and with the importance of delivering aid quickly after a disaster, performance expectations are high. Yet, the GAO found, FEMA consistently dropped the ball by relying on outdated management strategies, training its contracting officers poorly and not communicating clearly with states and localities. FEMA couldn’t even keep its records straight. Inconsistencies about contracts appeared in reports to congressional committees.

Insufficiently trained FEMA managers don’t know how to deploy the advance contracts, all but guaranteeing those resources aren’t being maximized after fires and hurricanes. Taxpayers aren’t getting the emergency response they expect and deserve.

Our region has seen the problems firsthand. Many Sonoma County residents found their properties overexcavated as part of the debris cleanup, and the federal government has been unwilling or unable to provide restitution. That’s cost some homeowners tens of thousands of dollars to bring in new soil, all while dealing with everything else they lost in the fires.

The auditors cited those and other debris removal problems after the fires in their report. They identified poor communication and divergent views about what to remove and what contaminants were safe as culprits for the errors. Had FEMA come in with strong contract management and clear communication to all parties, mistakes might have been avoided.

The report offers nine recommendations to improve FEMA. They focus on FEMA’s developing new contract strategies and communications protocols. In other words, the agency needs to do a better job managing, training and sharing information.

Here’s the thing, though. None of this is new. GAO auditors reported in 2006, post-Hurricane Katrina, that FEMA wasn’t handling its advance contracts well. A supplemental report in 2015 reiterated those findings.

Yet the problems remain. FEMA has had more than a decade to fix its systems, but it has failed.

And that means that Congress and the president have failed to conduct adequate oversight. This report is a kick in the pants for FEMA, but it should also be a wakeup call that someone needs to manage the managers better. California’s newly empowered Democratic delegation in the House will be uniquely positioned to work across the aisle with Republican delegations from hurricane-prone states to reform FEMA.

Climate experts predict that disasters will increase in frequency and severity as global temperatures rise. America must prepare for their aftermaths, and getting FEMA firing on all cylinders should be an attainable first step.


Dec. 10

The San Diego Union-Tribune on California voting officials need a clearer way of reporting results:

On the morning after Election Day, county registrars across California announced that 100 percent of precincts had reported results. Seeing that, some people assumed it was just a matter of time until candidates with leads were confirmed to be winners. Yet outcomes aren’t always known on Election Day.

This past election, as a recent Los Angeles Times analysis detailed, 6.9 million votes were counted by the morning of Nov. 7, but 5.2 million had yet to be counted — 43 percent of the state’s total. As counting of vote-by-mail and provisional ballots progressed, four House Republicans in California lost their leads and eventually their jobs. Even though late voting tallies have a history of skewing Democratic, prominent Republicans raised the prospect of election fraud in California without evidence. Such second-guessing undermines future elections.

That’s why California officials must change their election terminology before the next election. Instead of reporting on how many precincts have turned in their ballots, county registrars should estimate what percentage of total ballots they have counted. Given that registrars routinely predict turnout, making such an estimate the morning after an election shouldn’t be difficult. It may even be essential now: Nearly two out of three voters do so by mail, up from less than a quarter 20 years ago.

Secretary of State Alex Padilla, California’s chief elections officers, says he’s “open” to a new way of describing results. That’s not good enough. He should embrace more accurate language — then send out guidance, at the least, to registrars.


Dec. 10

The Fresno Bee on Kamala Harris needing to know a key staff member was accused of harassment:

On paper, Sen. Kamala Harris is a rather enticing Democratic presidential nominee for 2020. Formerly a San Francisco district attorney and California attorney general, she was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2016 and labeled a presidential contender even before stepping on to the Senate floor.

Harris has, in part, staked her potential candidacy in 2020 on her leadership on women’s issues and, in particular, on sexual harassment in the workplace. Harris, along with Sens. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and Cory Booker, D-N.J., made headlines with their strong and persistent questioning of now-Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who was accused of sexually assaulting Dr. Christine Blasey Ford when they both were teenagers.

Furthermore, Harris was front and center with Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., in calling for Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., to resign after he was accused of sexual harassment.

The Sacramento Bee broke the story Wednesday that one of Harris’ longtime aides, Larry Wallace, had been accused of gender harassment and other demeaning behavior by his former executive assistant, Danielle Hartley, who sued the state Department of Justice on Dec. 30, 2016, just before Harris assumed her current office.

Hartley said Wallace repeatedly asked her to crawl under his desk to change the paper in his printer. When she asked to have the printer moved, he declined. He sent Hartley on personal tasks not related to her position, and staffers asked her demeaning questions, such as, “Are you walking the walk of shame?”

Workplace harassment comes in many forms, and one is as demeaning as the other. Harassment is harassment.

Attorney General Xavier Becerra settled out of court for $400,000 in May 2017. In 2016, Wallace was the director of the Division of Law Enforcement under then-Attorney General Harris. He has been with Harris for 14 years, stretching back to her time as San Francisco district attorney. Most recently he worked out of Sacramento on her Senate staff.

Wallace resigned last Wednesday. Harris on Thursday said she wasn’t aware of the allegations against him.

There are only a few possible interpretations here, and they are unpleasant. Wallace wasn’t out on the periphery of Harris’ staff; he was a senior aide she knew for 14 years — hardly a stranger. For Harris to flatly deny any knowledge of this settlement seems, shall we say, far-fetched. For the moment, let’s take her at her word.

A second and equally troubling interpretation is that Harris isn’t a terribly good manager, and that her staff was insulating her from information critical to the performance of her duties. This is hardly a propitious beginning to a presidential candidacy.

Harris’ handling of this matter is eerily reminiscent of a 2010 case during her tenure as district attorney, where a judge rebuked her office for hiding problems in the drug analysis section of the San Francisco police crime lab.

Part of being an elected official is not only taking strong political positions and executing them fairly, it’s also being able to manage the people you entrust with responsibility. In this case, Harris has fallen short.

Harris owes the voters more than just a four-word denial on the steps of the U.S. Senate. She should fully explain her relationship with Wallace, and, by extension, her staff and why it insulated her from an issue upon which she has taken a leading national role.

Categories: California News