Monday, June 05, 2006

Major Continuity of Government exercise planned for this month

On Monday, June 19, about 4,000 government workers representing more than 50 federal agencies from the State Department to the Commodity Futures Trading Commission will say goodbye to their families and set off for dozens of classified emergency facilities stretching from the Maryland and Virginia suburbs to the foothills of the Alleghenies. They will take to the bunkers in an "evacuation" that my sources describe as the largest "continuity of government" exercise ever conducted, a drill intended to prepare the U.S. government for an event even more catastrophic than the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

The exercise is the latest manifestation of an obsession with government survival that has been a hallmark of the Bush administration since 9/11, a focus of enormous and often absurd time, money and effort that has come to echo the worst follies of the Cold War. The vast secret operation has updated the duck-and-cover scenarios of the 1950s with state-of-the-art technology -- alerts and updates delivered by pager and PDA, wireless priority service, video teleconferencing, remote backups -- to ensure that "essential" government functions continue undisrupted should a terrorist's nuclear bomb go off in downtown Washington.

That the continuity program is so poorly conceived, and poorly run, should come as no surprise. That's because the same Federal Emergency Management Agency that failed New Orleans after Katrina, an agency that a Senate investigating committee has pronounced "in shambles and beyond repair," is in charge of this enormous effort to plan for the U.S. government's survival.


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