The Washington Post reports that five out of eight leaders of FEMA (the emergency management agency that had such a triumph in New Orleans) had “virtually no experience” in disaster management when they were appointed.

This is – like so much about this Administration – astonishing but not surprising. The political appointment is so widespread in America, and so ill-managed in this administration, that there’s a wearying inevitability about the FEMA acting leader (the now-disgraced Michael Brown) and two of his senior officers having had ties to the Bush election campaign.

The alternative system, of life-term senior officials appointed through a career structure, has been around in the UK since the Northcote-Trevelyan report of 1854. It’s not perfect – it’s conservative, slow-moving and generally resistant to reform – but it does produce experts and permit expertise to flourish. It can, on its day, even produce a radical and innovative appointment.

The quick-change act at the top of most American governmental organisations must surely lead to demotivation and confusion in the lower reaches of the organisation. The British civil service may be frustrating, but if I were picking someone to lead on civil contingencies, I’d rather have Sir Humphrey Appleby than some random Muppet.