FEMA knows what kids want: proofreading photo captions!


Yes kids, you too can ... sit at a desk.

The FEMA for Kids website is an endless source of entertainment for me. There’s no other site that so perfectly encapsulates how clueless the government can be when it attempts to pander to children, as last year’s 9/11 coloring book kerfuffle showed.

I just stumbled upon its “Careers for Kids” page, which apparently seeks to get elementary school-age children excited about jobs in disaster response. But most of the photos are of feds sitting at their desks, doing work they describe in stultifying government-ese.

Take William Koplitz here, FEMA’s photo desk coordinator. Part of his job is taking photos for the agency’s website and employee newsletter. But rather than focusing on that — and perhaps showing him putting his photography skills to use — his entry is mostly about filing photos and checking to make sure they have the right captions or keywords. Other highlighted jobs talk about policy guidance, flood insurance, and program implementation — just what every kid dreams of.

The site needs to highlight more people like canine search specialist Mary Flood (at the bottom of this page). First off, what kid doesn’t love a big black lab like Flood’s partner, Jake? And second, Flood clearly and succinctly describes how she and Jake work together to find people after a disaster, in a way that doesn’t talk down to kids. Children can easily visualize a heroic dog searching for people in trouble, and it personalizes FEMA in a way that “regional operations director” doesn’t.

(Deep down, the issues with this overly bureaucratic site speak to a broader public image problem the federal government has. And it’s one that’s largely self-inflicted. That’s why Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry recently has made it his mission to “re-polish” feds’ image — and highlight all the cool and important things they do — to bolster the government’s recruitment.)

I’m sure Mr. Koplitz and everyone else highlighted on FEMA’s site are wonderful people, and very good at their jobs. But FEMA’s presentation here is a snooze, and something tells me any schoolkid will skip over the careers page and head right to the FEMA Rap.


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  1. Wow, Stephen! You really cut to the core of government bureaucracy and inefficiency with this hard-hitting piece of journalism. I am sure the people featured on the page have no idea how pointless their jobs are according to you, as they are too busy trying to be productive members of a larger team. I doubt they had the cultural capital to afford them the opportunity to grow up dreaming of being a top investigative journalist such as yourself.

    How much do you get paid to file copy? 10 cents per word; 12 if it is done while kicking a dead horse. So the website doesn’t live up to your high standards, maybe we should ask why you spend so much time trolling websites meant for children.

    The truth is you bury the platitudes for their hard work after mocking what they do — which is to say you really don’t value their efforts. Not everyone gets to grow up to have exciting jobs as firefighters; some people wind up being the ones working behind the scenes to make sure those folks get the support they need.


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