The Federal Emergency Management Agency was sugar-pie nice when it came calling with bundles of money during the 1996 floods that racked the Inland Northwest.
FEMA couldn’t get federal dollars into the hands of flood victims fast enough. Its public relations people knocked themselves out providing the media and devastated communities important information about disaster relief.
Of course, 1996 was an election year. And disasters provide a wonderful opportunity for incumbent presidents to troll for votes by spreading millions of federal dollars on the floodwaters.
Unfortunately, 1997 is another matter altogether.
The flooding this year wasn’t as bad as last year’s. The entrenched Clinton administration is more concerned now about fund-raising scandals than photo ops along swollen rivers. And FEMA officials are scarce, particularly when reporters ask sticky questions about the agency’s raid of a central Idaho flood center this month.
You don’t have to be an anti-government zealot to realize FEMA agents went too far July 19 when they stormed the Clearwater County Flood Control Command Center at Orofino. Even Morrie Goodman, FEMA’s communications director, labeled the raid “bizarre” and said he’d seen nothing like it before.
The agents were accompanied by Idaho State Police officers and armed with search warrants and crowbars. Ultimately, they packed off three vehicles full of seized local documents. County employees were left in tears. FEMA’s storm troopers would say only that they were looking for evidence of “possible criminal intent to defraud the government.”
It’s too early to say whether FEMA was conducting a fishing expedition, as Clearwater County Commissioner Bud Bonner claimed, or a search prompted by clear signs of criminal activity. A grand jury in Boise will decide if there’s been any wrongdoing after hearing more than a dozen employees testify next month.
Clearly, FEMA could have conducted itself differently. Bonner, for example, claims Clearwater County gladly would have provided the records FEMA wanted without muss or fuss. The tactics used by the federal agency, best-known for its humanitarian mission of helping disaster victims, bring to mind government overkill at Ruby Ridge and the FBI’s 1991 Silver Valley gambling raid.
Federal agents, including FEMA’s, should put away their old John Wayne movies.
, DataTimes The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = D.F. Oliveria/For the editorial board
Subscribe to the Coronavirus newsletter
Get the day’s latest Coronavirus news delivered to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter.