AUSTIN, Texas -- As those silver-tongued poets at the Pentagon put it, we are in a target-rich environment. One cannot -- honestly, one simply cannot -- pass up the Brownie memos.

The e-mails sent to and from "Heckuva Job" Michael Brown, head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency during and after Hurricane Katrina, are too absurd, too please-tell-me-they-made-this-up awful. As Katrina sent a 30-foot wall of water toward Mississippi, Brownie, steeped in disaster relief work at his former job with the International Arabian Horse Association, asked a top aide the burning question: "Tie or not for tonight? Button-down blue shirt?"

Fashion was quite the FEMA priority under Brownie. On the day Katrina hit, his press secretary wrote of his appearance on television: "My eyes must certainly be deceiving me. You look fabulous -- and I'm not talking the makeup." Brownie replied: "I got it at Nordstroms. ... Are you proud of me?"

An hour later, he added: "If you'll look at my lovely FEMA attire, you'll really vomit. I am a fashion god."

After Brownie's appearance with President Bush at a post-Katrina press conference, the press aide spotted an emergency: "Please roll up the sleeves of your shirt, all shirts. Even the president rolled his sleeves to just below the elbow. ... You just need to look more hardworking. ... ROLL UP THE SLEEVES."

The only FEMA worker in New Orleans in the first days after the hurricane was Marty Bahamonde, who e-mailed Brownie describing the situation as "past critical": people dying, food gone, water going, the homeless and hungry massing in the streets. Brownie replied: "Thanks for the update. Anything specific I need to do or tweak?"

Thanks for the update? Anything I need to tweak?

Three hours after receiving this message about hunger and thirst in New Orleans, Brownie's aide was on the food case, e-mailing colleagues on the need to free up enough time in the director's schedule for him to have dinner because restaurants in Baton Rouge were crowded and "he needs more than 20 or 30 minutes."

This prompted Bahamonde to e-mail a co-worker, "I just ate an MRE (military rations) and crapped in the hallway of the Superdome along with 30,000 other close friends, so I understand her concern about busy restaurants."

I guess all that would be a lot funnier it weren't for what the Pentagon poets call "collateral damage." But at least we don't have to worry about Brownie: The administration signed him up as a $148,000-a-year consultant to FEMA.

Our chief executive is a graduate of Harvard Business School, and his Cabinet is studded with former CEOs. This was supposed to be the "management administration" -- government was to be run like a big business, meetings would start on time, not like those slack Clinton years. These folks are giving management a bad name.

Back in Iraq, the $30 billion appropriated for the reconstruction of Iraq is running out. According to a New York Times article on the report by the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, "Officials in charge cannot say how many planned projects they will complete, and there is no clear source for the hundreds of millions of dollars a year needed to operate the projects that have been finished. ... (The report describes) an array of projects that went awry, sometimes astonishingly, like electrical substations that were built at great cost but never connected to the country's electrical grid."

After two-and-a-half years and $30 billion, electricity in Baghdad is on intermittently, just as it was two-and-a-half years and $30 billion ago.

So you figure, "Of course nothing's getting done -- there's an insurgency, the country's sliding into chaos." Let's look to Afghanistan, where peace reigns. How goes the rebuilding there? Oops. According to The New York Times, a New Jersey company got the contract to build 96 health clinics and schools by September 2004. To date, nine clinics and two schools have been completed and passed inspection.

The company told the Times it is hard to get good help in Afghanistan -- they have to use Afghani construction companies. After four years of reconstruction in Afghanistan, the United States has spent $1.3 billion, and according to American and Afghani sources, nobody's sure where the money is and how it's been spent -- and the net result is between unimpressive and pitiful. The agency in charge, the U.S. Agency for International Development, says things are moving right along and defends its programs.

One of the funnier legacies of the Nixon administration was an accounting award named after Maurice Stans, a secretary of commerce and chairman of the finance committee for Nixon's re-election, who kept suitcases of cash in his office and pled guilty to five misdemeanors relating to mishandling money. In that fine tradition, the Bushies should establish a management award named the Heckuva Job Brownie Prize. It would go to the person who makes the best suggestion for improving government management -- like, "Roll up your sleeves, it makes you look like you're working."

To find out more about Molly Ivins and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at COPYRIGHT 2005 CREATORS SYNDICATE INC.