State records show Bush re-election concerns played part in FEMA aid
As the second hurricane in less than a month bore down on Florida last fall, a federal consultant predicted a "huge mess" that could reflect poorly on President Bush and suggested that his re-election staff be brought in to minimize any political liability, records show.
Two weeks later, a Florida official summarizing the hurricane response wrote that the Federal Emergency Management Agency was handing out housing assistance "to everyone who needs it without asking for much information of any kind."
FEMA officials, the governor and the White House have steadfastly denied suggestions that politics played a role in the distribution of hurricane aid in Florida.
"The men and women at FEMA don't give a patooey about who the president is or who the governor is," FEMA Director Michael D. Brown told the newspaper's editorial board in October. "Whenever people say stuff like that … we're just offended by that because that's just not how we operate."
But politics was foremost on the mind of FEMA consultant Glenn Garcelon, who wrote a three-page memo titled "Hurricane Frances -- Thoughts and Suggestions," on Sept. 2.
Weeks after it was written, the memo made its way to Gov. Bush's chief of staff, Denver Stutler, who forwarded it to the governor Sept. 30. Bush did not see the report, nor was it used by the state, said the governor's spokesman, Jacob DiPietre.
Reached Tuesday at his home in Oregon, Garcelon said he "dashed off" the memo while on an airplane. "It was strictly my own personal perspective on things."
Working for Fluor Federal Services, a large firm that provides engineering and construction services to the government, Garcelon had been in Florida working on housing assistance for FEMA.
Dan McLaughlin, spokesman for U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla, said he was not surprised "that a consultant for the Bush administration would consider politics before the needs of hurricane victims."
"The very first points [of Garcelon's memo] have to do with shirking blame and calling in the president's re-election experts," McLaughlin said. " It only serves to underscore why we have to investigate how FEMA spent the hurricane money because there are just too many questions."
FEMA has been under scrutiny since the Sun-Sentinel first reported in October that the agency was awarding millions of dollars in disaster funds to residents of Miami-Dade County, even though the county did not experience hurricane conditions. At Nelson's urging, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee is investigating. Earlier this month, 14 Miami-Dade residents who received assistance were indicted on fraud charges.
As of March 16, FEMA had given $31 million to 12,891 applicants in Miami-Dade for damage claimed from Frances.