The Government Man Talks About GSA’s Response to Hurricane Sandy

I have been using this blog as a forum for satirical commentary concerning some elected officials and certain components of my former lifetime employer, GSA. Unfortunately, there is absolutely no humor to be found in discussing Hurricane Sandy, one of the great disasters of a lifetime.

In the last year GSA has been in the news for a lot of negative reasons and has been a prime topic for political grandstanding and the butt of late night TV jokes. As a retired senior official of the agency I can say with assurance that one of the tasks GSA does very well, albeit without fanfare, is responding to disasters. While no amount of preparation can anticipate the magnitude of a Hurricane Sandy or a 9/11 my colleagues were always ready and well prepared to react. Getting space and supplies to start up FEMA in the disaster zone and to get other agencies in GSA buildings back on line begins immediately and methodically. In the case of the current disaster, which is in the geographic area of the regional office and a major concentration of GSA operated buildings, staffers are dealing with a disaster response as well as their own personal losses.

I’m told by some of my former colleagues that the current command center in Newark, New Jersey (after 9/11 an agency wide policy was instituted to create multiple emergency centers in the event the primary one was inaccessible) has taken on the appearance of our 9/11 center at the peak of the response. Those who could not get to the center are teleworking from wherever they can get an Internet connection. Dedicated GSA employees are working 24/7 in the recovery effort and will continue for months. This is part of the job and nobody is looking for pats on the back.

There will no doubt be some political showmanship and influence peddling to benefit their own constituents but this is the usual scenario. After it’s over the gadfly inspector general will probably come in and find some miniscule contracting imperfections which were done in the interest of expeditiously serving client agencies in the most trying of circumstances. Hopefully, our elected officials will take an interest in the recovery rather than to hold further hearings about shrimp cocktails and Monte Cristo sandwiches as they did earlier this year (Whatever happened to that scandal anyway?).

I hope that this does not become a pr contest and the news releases are honest and factual without a political slant to boost the administration. When I was in charge of the Public Buildings Service 9/11 command center in New York I received a call during the frenzy of activity from the politically appointed Central Office media person two days after the event, asking permission to allow a TV crew in and to spend time doing interviews “so we can get some good publicity.” That idea lasted for as long as it took for me to utter a few profanities and hang up the phone.

My thoughts go out to my former GSA colleagues who are quietly getting the job done.

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