With Iraq, Hurricane Katrina and the Walter Reed hospital scandal — maybe you thought that the incompetence of the White House had bottomed out.

But … here comes another embarrassment bubbling to the surface. While the president keeps popping back to New Orleans for political photo ops showing him posing with Katrina victims, he hasn’t mentioned that his budget whackers have been steadily shortchanging the National Hurricane Center on the money it needs to do its job — which is to give us as accurate a picture as possible of when and where a Big One will hit our people.

Indeed, the center’s new director says that our nation’s hurricane protection program is now underfunded by “hundreds of millions of dollars.” He also warns of another funding failure that could result in disaster during this year’s hurricane season. The center’s QuikSCAT satellite — crucial to providing accurate, up-to-the-minute forecasts of a storm’s intensity and where it’s headed — is about to go on the fritz. He says that the satellite could fail “at any moment.”

The budget gurus had to know that QuikSCAT went up in 1999 with an expected lifespan of five years, so it’s already overdue to be replaced. Yet, even after Katrina in 2005, Mr. Bush’s budgeteers have failed to plan for its replacement. Apparently, the plan is for everyone in a hurricane zone to cross their fingers and pray. Call it “faith-based” emergency preparedness.

The failure to prepare can’t be a matter of money. Yes, it’ll cost about $400 million to replace QuikSCAT, but the Pentagon blows that amount every two days in Iraq. Plus the president wants to spend at least $170 billion to send astronauts to Mars — shouldn’t he put a pittance of that into protecting people here on earth first?

What we have here is another example of incompetence and callousness. Maybe if a Category 5 storm threatened Washington, we’d get our satellite.

Jim Hightower is a national political commentator. This article was distributed by MinutemanMedia.org.