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Last Tuesday, FEMA Deputy Director Vice Adm. Harvey E. Johnson held a press conference regarding the agency’s response to the wildfires in California. In light of the agency’s catastrophic failures during Hurricane Katrina, the questions asked by reporters seemed to be a little too soft. For example, one of the questions was, “What lessons learned from Katrina have been applied?”

Well, it turns out, the “reporters” weren’t actually reporters.

They were FEMA employees posing as reporters.

In defense of his agency’s actions, FEMA Deputy Director of Public Affairs Mike Widomski said, “We had been getting mobbed with phone calls from reporters, and this was thrown together at the last minute." You see, the agency only gave real reporters 15 minutes’ notice of the news briefing. They allowed reporters to call in and listen to the briefing, but not to ask questions. When no reporters showed up, what was FEMA supposed to do? Give reporters more time to show up? Reschedule the briefing? Perhaps the agency was afraid of showing a weakening of resolve. FEMA showed once and for all it will never give in to the, uh, traffic. The show must go on--in fact, this time it actually was a “show”.

Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff promised “appropriate discipline” against those responsible but declined to say if any employees involved would lose their jobs. At least Chertoff is being honest with us and is not pretending that there will be real accountability for this incident. He’s clearly learned from the errors made by his boss, President Bush, who in June 2004 said he would fire anyone in his administration involved with leaking the identity of undercover CIA agent Valerie Plame. When Karl Rove was named as one of the sources behind the leak, the president showed us how much his words count for.

Since the firing of the employees who participated in this charade seems to be out of the question, I have another suggestion. If these FEMA employees were so eager to pretend to be reporters, why don’t they leave FEMA and pursue real careers in journalism? Then perhaps we could get some competent people into this farce of an agency.