I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again — George W. Bush is a terrible manager. He’s all the bad managers I’ve ever had rolled into one bumbling mess, and then some.
Consider: Today Eric Lipton’s New York Times article took us back to the flood waters of New Orleans and the revelation that the White House had been informed of the levee failure much earlier than they had previously admitted.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Bush administration officials said they had been caught by surprise when they were told on Tuesday, Aug. 30, that a levee had broken, allowing floodwaters to engulf New Orleans.
But Congressional investigators have now learned that an eyewitness account of the flooding from a federal emergency official reached the Homeland Security Department’s headquarters starting at 9:27 p.m. the day before, and the White House itself at midnight.
Jane Hamsher observes that either no told President Bush about the levee breaks, or he was told and didn’t care. I’m betting on the “no one told him, and he didn’t care, anyway” option.
Just for fun, let’s take a look back at this September 29, 2005 Newsweek article by Evan Thomas, “Katrina: How Bush Blew It.”
It’s a standing joke among the president’s top aides: who gets to deliver the bad news? Warm and hearty in public, Bush can be cold and snappish in private, and aides sometimes cringe before the displeasure of the president of the United States, or, as he is known in West Wing jargon, POTUS. The bad news on this early morning, Tuesday, Aug. 30, some 24 hours after Hurricane Katrina had ripped through New Orleans, was that the president would have to cut short his five-week vacation by a couple of days and return to Washington. The president’s chief of staff, Andrew Card; his deputy chief of staff, Joe Hagin; his counselor, Dan Bartlett, and his spokesman, Scott McClellan, held a conference call to discuss the question of the president’s early return and the delicate task of telling him. Hagin, it was decided, as senior aide on the ground, would do the deed.
Another article, by Mike Allen of Time, is no longer online. But I quoted it here.
A related factor, aides and outside allies concede, is what many of them see as the President’s increasing isolation. Bush’s bubble has grown more hermetic in the second term, they say, with fewer people willing or able to bring him bad newsï¿½or tell him when he’s wrong.
Bush has never been adroit about this. A youngish aide who is a Bush favorite described the perils of correcting the boss. “The first time I told him he was wrong, he started yelling at me,” the aide recalled about a session during the first term. “Then I showed him where he was wrong, and he said, ‘All right. I understand. Good job.’ He patted me on the shoulder. I went and had dry heaves in the bathroom.” …
… “His inner circle takes pride in being able to tell him ‘everything is under control,’ when in this case it was not,” said a former aide. “The whole idea that you have to only burden him with things ‘that rise to his level’ bit them this time.”
I’ve seen managers who are abusive to staff and who fly off the handle at bad news, and the result is that no one tells them anything. The staff learns to tip-toe around the manager and hide disasters in the making as long as possible, in the hopes that somehow the mess will be resolved before the boss has to be informed. Such managers not only fail to enable work to get done; they get in the way of work getting done.
But the kinds of workflow problems many of us stumble over in our jobs generally do not make worldwide headlines. I still can’t get over the fact that Bush was so incurious about the damage caused by a major hurricane that he didn’t flip on a television and watch for himself, but was content just to listen to what the lackeys told him. Even the worst manager I’ve ever had wouldn’t have been that incompetent.
I missed Michael “fashion god” Brown’s testimony today. I’ve read some of it and can’t help but suspect it was mostly butt cover. Seems to me that even if FEMA had failed to inform the White House on Monday, however, one might assume the Bush staff was getting a clue by Tuesday. Yet the Evan Thomas article told us Bush was not made aware of how badly the recovery efforts were going until Friday.
You can blame the staff, but who’s responsible for the staff? For that matter, who’s responsible for turning FEMA into a crony-infested mess?