WASHINGTON - The national soul-searching over the Hurricane Katrina catastrophe has focused on the slow or confused responses of government officials, from President Bush and former FEMA head Michael Brown to the governor of Louisiana and the mayor of New Orleans.
But when the dust settles, investigators leading the inevitable wave of Katrina probes to come may well find that some of the debacle's chief causes lie with other individuals and stretch back in time - to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and their emotional aftermath.
Even some of the main architects of the government's massive post-9/11 restructuring acknowledged that, in the Katrina disaster, the changes failed their first major test.
"At this point, we would have expected a sharp, crisp response to this terrible tragedy," said Sen. Susan Collins, a Maine Republican and chairwoman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee. "Instead, we witnessed what appeared to be a sluggish initial response."
Interviews with senior officials and outside analysts, along with a review of government reports from the last three years, yield evidence of a string of questionable decisions by lawmakers and homeland-security officials charged with protecting Americans against future assaults:
- Legislation hastily crafted and passed by Congress in November 2002, which created the Department of Homeland Security, safeguarded the ability of some agencies within the new mega-department - such as the Coast Guard - to respond to non-terrorist emergencies, while draining clout and resources from others - starting with the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
- The law establishing DHS, and subsequent budget moves by Bush, congressional appropriators and the new agency's leaders, shifted the federal government's focus from responding to emergencies to preventing them - and, more broadly, from preparing for natural disasters to readying for terrorist attacks.
- An administrative change by then-Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, early last year, left FEMA with the task of leading the country's response to any large-scale disaster, manmade or natural. But Ridge's change stripped FEMA of the right to distribute billions of dollars in emergency-preparedness grants to state and local governments, thus limiting its ability to know where key assets were located once a disaster occurred.
- Restrictions written into the original DHS law require most of those federal-grant funds to be spent on terrorism-related equipment or training, with response to floods, hurricanes, tornadoes or other natural disasters merely an afterthought.
Now, in the wake of Katrina, lawmakers from both parties and Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff are among those rushing forward with fresh fixes.
Sen. Mark Foley, a Florida Republican, and Democratic Sens. Barbara Mikulski of Maryland and Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York are pushing measures to remove FEMA from DHS and restore its status as an independent, Cabinet-level agency.
Chertoff, meanwhile, maintains that Katrina makes even more urgent an administrative reform he had advanced before the hurricane and flooding: to dedicate one office within DHS to preparing for emergencies, while retaining post-disaster response responsibilities in a separate DHS agency - FEMA.
Some experts say that kind of change could exacerbate the existing problem of fragmented lines of authority.
Under the current practice initiated by Ridge, DHS' Office of State and Local Government Coordination and Preparedness distributed almost $3.3 billion in emergency-preparedness grants this budget year. But when Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, FEMA was charged with coordinating the use of equipment and personnel bought and trained by those funds.
"The people who draw up the plans should be able to execute the plans," said Paul Anderson, a spokesman for the Government Accountability Office, Congress' chief investigative arm. "Now we have one office taking in grant applications, reviewing emergency plans by state and local governments and determining where federal assistance should go, yet FEMA is tasked with managing the response and marshalling the assets."
For months after 9/11, Bush resisted widespread calls to consolidate the government's varied anti-terrorism and emergency-response functions into a massive new super-agency.
But when an independent commission set up to probe the attacks - whose creation Bush had also opposed - recommended such a consolidation, he relented under political pressure, and the Department of Homeland Security was born. It now contains 22 previously separate agencies or parts of agencies, with 180,000 total employees.
As Congress quickly slapped together legislation to create DHS, some lawmakers warned that it should be giving more scrutiny to the largest government overhaul since President Harry Truman established the Defense Department after World War II.
Holding up the 484-page measure that would set up DHS, Democratic Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia declared: "It has not been before any committee. There have been no hearings on this bill. ... Never have I seen such a monstrous piece of legislation sent to this body."
Six months before Congress overwhelmingly approved the DHS legislation in November 2002, U.S. Comptroller General David Walker, head of the GAO, had raised other concerns.
"Many non-homeland-security missions are likely to be integrated into a Cabinet department overwhelmingly dedicated to protecting the nation from terrorism," Walker said. "Congress may wish to consider whether the new department, as proposed, will dedicate sufficient management capacity and accountability to ensure the execution of non-homeland-security missions."
Walker cited six critical federal functions he believed could deteriorate if absorbed into the terrorism-oriented DHS. In a warning that seems prescient after the Katrina debacle, one of the functions was "responding to floods and other natural disasters by FEMA."
Rep. Don Young, an Alaska Republican, worried about the fate of the U.S. Coast Guard if it was folded into the DHS, saying the military branch provided essential maritime security and search-and-rescue services to his state's commercial fishermen.
"It is very likely that all other important missions of the Coast Guard and FEMA will become secondary to the effort to combat terrorism," Young said.
Young successfully demanded that the DHS measure include clauses specifically protecting the Coast Guard. As a result of his efforts, the law defines six non-homeland-security missions and five homeland-security missions for the Coast Guard.
More importantly, the law says those missions "shall be maintained intact and without significant reduction after the transfer of the Coast Guard to the Department." And it expressly prohibits the DHS secretary from taking any steps that "substantially or significantly reduce the missions of the Coast Guard."
Partly because similar protections for FEMA were not written into the law, that agency lost its Cabinet status and its right to distribute emergency-preparedness grants after being absorbed into DHS.
That omission might help to explain the contrasting public reviews FEMA and the Coast Guard received as the Katrina disaster unfolded.
Brown, the FEMA director, was recalled to Washington and removed from the job of running the Katrina relief effort, leading to his subsequent resignation. Replacing him as the federal government's ground commander in the devastated Gulf Coast region was Vice Adm. Thad Allen, chief of staff of the Coast Guard.
Richard Falkenrath, deputy homeland security adviser to Bush in 2003 and 2004, said the Katrina tragedy would require lawmakers and other policymakers to reconsider some of the post-9/11 changes.
"Obviously, our country is not as ready to respond to these sorts of uber-catastrophes as we would like it to be - and as many people had hoped we would be - after 9/11," he said. "To a certain extent, this is a bit of false advertising as to what the government has accomplished since 9/11."
(Liz Ruskin of the Washington bureau contributed to this report.)
British food donation to be burned
19 September 2005
EXCLUSIVE: UP IN FLAMES - Tons of British aid donated to help Hurricane Katrina victims to be BURNED by Americans
From Ryan Parry, US Correspondent in New York
HUNDREDS of tons of British food aid shipped to America for starving Hurricane Katrina survivors is to be burned. US red tape is stopping it from reaching hungry evacuees.
Instead tons of the badly needed Nato ration packs, the same as those eaten by British troops in Iraq, has been condemned as unfit for human consumption. And unless the bureaucratic mess is cleared up soon it could be sent for incineration.
One British aid worker last night called the move "sickening senselessness" and said furious colleagues were "spitting blood".
The food, which cost British taxpayers millions, is sitting idle in a huge warehouse after the Food and Drug Agency recalled it when it had already left to be distributed. Scores of lorries headed back to a warehouse in Little Rock, Arkansas, to dump it at an FDA incineration plant.
The Ministry of Defence in London said last night that 400,000 operational ration packs had been shipped to the US. But officials blamed the US Department of Agriculture, which impounded the shipment under regulations relating to the import and export of meat.
The aid worker, who would not be named, said: "This is the most appalling act of sickening senselessness while people starve.
"The FDA has recalled aid from Britain because it has been condemned as unfit for human consumption, despite the fact that these are Nato approved rations of exactly the same type fed to British soldiers in Iraq.
"Under Nato, American soldiers are also entitled to eat such rations, yet the starving of the American South will see them go up in smoke because of FDA red tape madness."
The worker added: "There will be a cloud of smoke above Little Rock soon - of burned food, of anger and of shame that the world's richest nation couldn't organise a p**s up in a brewery and lets Americans starve while they arrogantly observe petty regulations.
"Everyone is revolted by the chaotic shambles the US is making of this crisis. Guys from Unicef are walking around spitting blood.
"This is utter madness. People have worked their socks off to get food into the region.
"It is perfectly good Nato approved food of the type British servicemen have. Yet the FDA are saying that because there is a meat content and it has come from Britain it must be destroyed.
"If they are trying to argue there is a BSE reason then that is ludicrously out of date. There is more BSE in the States than there ever was in Britain and UK meat has been safe for years."
The Ministry of Defence said: "We understand there was a glitch and these packs have been impounded by the US Department of Agriculture under regulations relating to the import and export of meat.
"The situation is changing all the time and at our last meeting on Friday we were told progress was being made in relation to the release of these packs. The Americans certainly haven't indicated to us that there are any more problems and they haven't asked us to take them back."
Food from Spain and Italy is also being held because it fails to meet US standards and has been judged unfit for human consumption.
And Israeli relief agencies are furious that thousands of gallons of pear juice are to be destroyed because it has been judged unfit.
The FDA said: "We did inspect some MREs (meals ready to eat) on September 13. They are the only MREs we looked at. There were 70 huge pallets of vegetarian MREs.
"They were from a foreign nation. We inspected them and then released them for distribution."
Wed 21 Sep, 2005 10:40 am
Two German planes with similar food - e.g. ALL Nato-forces, including the US, get exactly this in Afghanistan - had been send back earlier.
'Leadership' with connections
September 20, 2005
Many Americans breathed a disgusted sigh of relief when FEMA Director Michael Brown resigned after it was revealed that his primary qualifications for the job appeared to be connections to President Bush.
But what about here in Florida, where Scott R. Morris recently took over the Orlando-based effort to deal with Florida's long-term disaster relief?
Well, looking at Morris' resume on the Federal Emergency Management Agency Web site, you can see that his qualifications include: "media strategist for the George W. Bush for President primary campaign and the Bush-Cheney 2000 campaign."
Hey, wait a minute. That doesn't sound disaster-related. (In the literal sense, anyway.)
Morris' resume says he also "managed grass-roots activities and media strategies for the Dole for President campaign." Plus, he "assisted the executive director of the Republican National Committee."
His degree: a bachelor's in communication.
Put it all together, and it looks as if the guy is well-suited to handle a tornado of campaign accusations or hurricane-force punditry. But nothing about Morris suggests he gave much thought to emergency management until Bush appointed him FEMA's deputy chief of staff in November 2003.
Political appointments are nothing new -- to either party. But most often the important stuff goes to folks with some know-how. The purely partisan picks get to be ambassador to Tanzania. (Seriously. The current Tanzanian ambassador is a restaurateur who was chairman of Mississippi's Republican Party and treasurer of the 2004 Republican National Convention.)
The FEMA spin on this is essentially: qualifications, schmalifications.
They look at results and character.
Office spokeswoman Frances Marine described her boss as a natural-born leader, stressing: "Leadership is a quality that works well in many different areas."
Morris, 35, reached Monday in Tallahassee, where state officials were eyeing Rita's march toward the Keys, emphasized the same attributes. "Leadership is a quality," he said.
Indeed. But if you were going to hire someone to build you a house, would you get someone with a lot of experience building homes or someone with a lot of experience leading?
A long pause from Morris.
Finally: "That's a good question."
Morris went on to say that he expected questions about his experience, but asked residents to judge him on his tenure as Florida's top FEMA official, rather than past political campaigns.
As early evidence of a well-run office, Morris and his staff note that, since he arrived in Orlando in May, grant money funneled to residents and governments has tripled, from $3.4 million a day to more than $11 million.
Morris said he credits an expansive and veteran staff, some of whom have the decades of emergency-response experience that he lacks.
"I know to surround myself with good people," he said.
"Basically what I'm saying is: Judge me for what I'm doing now. If I stumble, and if I fall down, I will be the first to take myself out of the job. Because I'll know I'm not doing anybody any good."
In 1955, Winter Park Memorial helped birth its first baby. Fifty years later, the hospital decided it was time to celebrate.
And that's what happened Sunday as "babies" -- some of whom now have grandchildren of their own -- gathered for a party on the hospital's lawn.
There was a crawling contest, stroller decorating, food and games. But the marquee event was the diaper derby, in which more than a dozen local notables competed to see who could change diapers the fastest.
The good news was that the babies weren't real. (Otherwise, some of the hospital's ER docs might have been needed to tend to injuries sustained by competitive men manhandling their diaper-clad infants.)
Among the contestants were several politicians and media members -- all skilled by trade in working with the stuff that fills diapers
In the moments before the event began, former legislator Dick Batchelor began stretching, calling the exercises his "bowel movements."
And Orange County Property Appraiser Bill Donegan put on the required smock and hairnet and said: "This is what I wear when I go to Tallahassee."
But while the two pols were cracking wise, WKMG-Channel 6 anchor Bob Frier was all business, winning the first heat.
Earning the second of the three positions in the finals was Winter Park Chamber of Commerce President Sam Stark, whose 1-year-old son, Ben, had him very much in practice. "My biggest problem is that I'm used to doing it with someone who's squirming," he said.
Among the slower, but very good-spirited competitors were 580 AM (WDBO)'s "Officer" Jim Bishop and Winter Park Mayor Kip Marchman, who made no apologies for his slow time. "I was going for accuracy," Marchman explained.
That said, the winner of the whole shebang threw accuracy out the window. And he may have had a built-in advantage, seeing as how he not only deals with the stuff that fills diapers, he's been accused of filling the paper with it . . . because it was this columnist.
Getting down to the basics
Orange County Commissioner Linda Stewart has about a week left to complete one of the region's most unusual relief efforts for Hurricane Katrina. "Operation Undies" hopes to round up 5,000 pairs of underwear by next Thursday. Donations can be dropped off in the lobby of the Orange County Administration center at 201 S. Rosalind Ave. And lest there be any question, please note the donated undies and diapers should be, as the flier emphasizes, "NEW."
Wed 21 Sep, 2005 11:42 am
Why Did FEMA Re-Route Tons of Gulf Coast Ice to Maine?
September 20th, 2005
Coctails in Kennebunkport? Are George and Barbara Bush getting ready to throw some sort of disaster celebration party at their second home on the coast of Maine?
"The $9,000 they're paying me to move this load [from Alabama to Maine] should have gone to some family down there. There is definitely millions being wasted that could go to people who need it."Word comes from Portland, Maine, that FEMA has sent "hundreds of big rigs, loaded with tons of ice and water meant for hurricane Katrina victims" to Portland, which is the largest town near the Bush second home in Kennebunkport.
In the coming days, the city is expecting 200 to 300 trucks filled with ice and water. For now, the ice and water will be kept at a cold storage warehouse in Portland. Portland Transportation Director, Jeff Monroe says he believes storage facilities South of here are full. That's why it came to Portland. It's unclear if or when the supplies will make it to the gulf coast.
One of the truck drivers involved complained that moving the ice was a waste of time and money:
"The $9,000 they're paying me to move this load should have gone to some family down there," said Loren Reeves, who hauled his load of ice from Long Island, N.Y., to Alabama before being sent to Maine. "There is definitely millions being wasted that could go to people who need it."
FEMA spokesperson Kathy Cable explained:
"It's more economical to store them and be able to use them right away. When we need it, we need all of it and we need it now. It's better to have it stored than to go out and buy it."
This is questionable. Temperatures around New Orleans in September are generally in the 90's, with humidity to match. Seems like somebody down there could use some ice at some point soon. You don't have to be an efficiency expert to see that it won't be too helpful to have the ice stored 1,500 miles away.
Mon 26 Sep, 2005 10:09 am
Response to Rita illustrates government failed after Katrina
Response to Rita illustrates how government failed after Katrina
By Jonathan S. Landay, Seth Borenstein and Alison Young
Knight Ridder Newspapers
Sun Sep 25, 2005
WASHINGTON - The speed with which the federal government marshaled significant military and other resources to evacuate, rescue and care for victims of Hurricane Rita raises new questions about why Washington was so slow to respond to Hurricane Katrina less than four weeks earlier.
The Bush administration says it's researching whether the federal government needs to have greater authority to respond to disasters - and whether the military should be in charge.
The response to Rita, however, suggests that the government had plenty of authority to respond to Katrina and that what was lacking during Katrina was an understanding of when to use that authority.
"The atmosphere here is very, very different than it was in the days following Katrina," said John Pine, Louisiana State University Disaster Science and Management director. Pine was in Louisiana's emergency operations center in Baton Rouge on Sunday and said that nearly as many federal officials were present as those from state and local agencies.
A day after Katrina, "it was all on the shoulders of state and locals," Pine said. "There was a lot more staging of a lot more operations in place for the second storm. ... I think you see a huge difference."
To be sure, the devastation wreaked last month by Katrina appears to have been far greater than that caused by Rita. But experts say the threat posed by both should have prompted similar preparations and responses - and similar high-level attention from the Bush administration.
Both storms barreled through the Gulf of Mexico toward large population centers. Both reached Category 5 strength before weakening slightly as they made landfall. And both storms had similar potential for catastrophe - with the approach of Katrina perhaps causing even greater concern because of its track toward New Orleans' below-sea-level population, which was at risk both from the storm and from levees long known to be vulnerable to a direct hit.
Federal officials have been avoiding a detailed discussion of what went wrong during Katrina, when President Bush and other top federal officials were on vacation.
But in praising response to Rita, they provide some guidance, even if unintended, in assessing the government's response to Katrina, which killed more than 1,000 people in Louisiana and Mississippi. At least some of those deaths came in the days during which Katrina victims went largely without federal assistance.
Among the differences:
-President Bush took an active role in monitoring preparations for Rita, even traveling to Colorado to observe how the military's Northern Command responded to the disaster. During Katrina, Bush remained in Crawford, Texas, then traveled to Arizona and California for previously scheduled political appearances as the storm hit.
Other top officials were more actively involved in Rita preparations and remained on the case as the storm came ashore. For Katrina, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld attended a ball game in San Diego as New Orleans flooded and Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff attended a previously scheduled briefing on avian flu in Atlanta.
- For Rita, FEMA was more aggressive in getting supplies into the affected areas. As Katrina hit, FEMA said it would have 500 truckloads of water and 500 truckloads of ice for the first 10 days after the storm. The day after Rita hit, 348 truckloads of water and 275 truckloads of ice were already on hand and FEMA's acting director promised that Louisiana would get an additional 200 truckloads of water and 200 truckloads of ice each day thereafter.
-FEMA also moved nearly twice as many urban search and rescue teams into the area for Rita than for Katrina, according to the agency's documents. Before Katrina struck, nine rescue teams were pre-deployed; the number was 17 for Rita.
-Chertoff moved much more quickly in declaring Rita an "incident of national significance," something he did two days before Rita struck, but 36 hours after Katrina had devastated the Louisiana and Mississippi coasts. Chertoff's spokesman says the designation had little practical impact, but others said it allowed the appointment of a Coast Guard admiral to be the top federal official running the federal response even before Rita arrived.
-The Defense Department was actively involved in preparing for Rita in contrast to days of delay before activating its response to Katrina.
U.S. military involvement with Hurricane Rita began while the storm was still churning across the Gulf of Mexico. The Pentagon announced the creation of a joint task force for Rita relief efforts four days before the storm hit, and thousands of active-duty troops were placed on alert for immediate deployment before landfall.
By comparison, the Pentagon did not activate its Katrina task force until two days after Katrina struck and active-duty military units were not used in any major way until at least three days after. The first major deployment of active-duty ground troops did not occur until five days after Katrina struck.
Perhaps the most startling difference was the military's role in evacuating thousands of nursing home residents, hospital patients and other frail people ahead of Rita. During Katrina, hundreds of such patients languished for days in water-surrounded facilities.
Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said the military conducted the evacuations at the request of the Department of Health and Human Services, a request Whitman acknowledged was "a bit outside the chain of command." Under the federal government's National Response Plan, such a request would normally come from FEMA.
Northern Command's preparations for Hurricane Rita also included placing on alert five two-man teams to set up long-range communications in the hardest-hit areas if requested by federal disaster relief officials. The teams were equipped with satellite telephones and fax machines.
Michael Kucharek, a Northern Command spokesman, said the move was "probably one of the quick lessons learned" from Hurricane Katrina, which knocked out phone lines and cellular towers in Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama, hampering relief operations for days.
Mon 26 Sep, 2005 10:21 am
Contrary to the thrust of that article, the developments surrounding Rita point quite clearly to the difference made by competent state and local government. In the case of Rita, state and local officials and departments discharged their duties and met their responsibilities. In the case of Katrina, Louisiana and New Orleans leadership failed abysmally, exposing corruption, incompetence, and unacceptable fidelity to responsibility.
Mon 26 Sep, 2005 10:59 am
Katrina: Bush's New Crony Cash Cow
Opinion: Katrina: Bush's New Crony Cash Cow,
George W. Bush's plan to reconstruct the Gulf Coast is the biggest crony cash-cow in American history (aside from the pork-orgy he's throwing for his pals in Iraq). Bush is using his emergency powers to strip American citizens of their legal protections against exploitation, handing out no-bid contracts to his pals and paymasters and allowing them to pay coolie wages to build their new commercial empires on the bones and blood of the hurricane's victims.
All of this is aimed at "changing the demographics" of the region, especially New Orleans, as the city's wealthy white elite have openly admitted to the Wall Street Journal. They want to scatter the poor - especially the black poor - to the four winds, and rebuild New Orleans as a playground for the rich, a malevolent corporate fantasyland patroled by heat-packing private goons.
While Bush is handing fat federal deals to his biggest contributors, to his former aides - and, as always, to the ubiquitous Halliburton - he has suspended regulations that would have paid the countless thousands of displaced natives a living wage to rebuild their communities and their region. Instead, as investigator Jeremy Scahill reports, the Bushist elite are bringing in migrant laborers - legal and illegal - to work, unprotected and ill-paid, under the watchful eye of hired guns from the Blackwater mercenary agency, many of them fresh from the privatized killing fields of Iraq and now under direct federal contract, with shoot-to-kill powers, in the streets of New Orleans.
Tue 4 Oct, 2005 11:41 am
The Post-Katrina Bush Misery Plan
Opinion: The Post-Katrina Bush Misery Plan
Paul Krugman (excerpts)
...Bush has been forced by events into short-term actions that conflict with his long-term goals. His mission in office is to dismantle or at least shrink the federal social safety net, yet he must, as a matter of political necessity, provide aid to Katrina's victims. His problem is how to do that without legitimizing the very role of government he opposes....
This dilemma explains the administration's opposition to Medicaid coverage for all Katrina refugees. How can it provide that coverage without undermining its ongoing efforts to reduce the Medicaid rolls? More broadly, if it accepts the principle that all hurricane victims are entitled to medical care, people might start asking why the same isn't true of all American citizens - a line of thought that points toward a system of universal health insurance, which is anathema to conservatives.
As for the administration's odd insistence on providing public housing instead of relying on the market, The Los Angeles Times reports that Department of Housing and Urban Development officials initially announced plans to issue rent vouchers, then backed off after meeting with White House aides. As the article notes, the administration has "repeatedly sought to cut or limit" the existing housing voucher program. This suggests that what administration officials fear isn't that housing vouchers would fail, but that they would succeed - and that this success would undermine the administration's ongoing efforts to cut back housing aid.
So here's the key to understanding post-Katrina policy: Mr. Bush can't avoid helping Katrina's victims, but he doesn't want to legitimize institutions that help the needy, like the housing voucher program. As a result, his administration refuses to use those institutions, even when they are the best way to provide victims with aid. More generally, the administration is trying to treat Katrina's victims as harshly as the political realities allow, so as not to create a precedent for other aid efforts....
Tue 11 Oct, 2005 10:11 am
Bush Will Avoid Funding Katrina Recostruction
Opinion: Bush Will Do "Whatever It Takes" To Avoid Funding Katrina Reconstruction
By Paul Krugman (excerpt)
New York Times
...Bush already has a record of trying to renege on pledges to a stricken city. After 9/11 he made big promises to New York. But as soon as his bullhorn moment was past, officials began trying to wriggle out of his pledge. By early 2002 his budget director was accusing New York's elected representatives, who wanted to know what had happened to the promised aid, of engaging in a "money-grubbing game." It's not clear how much federal help the city has actually received. With that precedent in mind, consider this: Congress has just gone on recess. By the time it returns, seven weeks will have passed since the levees broke. And the administration has spent much of that time blocking efforts to aid Katrina's victims.
I'm not sure why the news media haven't made more of the White House role in stalling a bipartisan bill that would have extended Medicaid coverage to all low-income hurricane victims - some of whom, according to surveys, can't afford needed medicine. The White House has also insisted that disaster loans to local governments, many of which no longer have a tax base, be made with the cruel and unusual provision that these loans cannot be forgiven. Since the administration is already nickel-and-diming Katrina's victims, it's a good bet that it will do the same with reconstruction - that is, if reconstruction ever gets started....There are no visible signs that the administration has even begun developing a plan. No reconstruction czar has been appointed; no commission has been named. There have been no public hearings. And as far as we can tell, nobody is in charge.
...I've been reading "Off Center," an important new book by Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson, political scientists at Yale and Berkeley respectively. Their goal is to explain how Republicans, who face a generally moderate electorate and have won recent national elections by "the slimmest of margins," have nonetheless been able to advance a radical rightist agenda. One of their "new rules for radicals" is "Don't just do something, stand there." Frontal assaults on popular government programs tend to fail, as Mr. Bush learned in his hapless attempt to sell Social Security privatization. But as Mr. Hacker and Mr. Pierson point out, "sometimes decisions not to act can be a powerful means of reshaping the role of government." For example, the public strongly supports a higher minimum wage, but conservatives have nonetheless managed to cut that wage in real terms by not raising it in the face of inflation.
Tue 11 Oct, 2005 10:28 am
Tue 11 Oct, 2005 10:52 am
October Tuesday 11th 2005 (07h01) :
Gentrification Sweeps Streets of New Orleans Rolling in Cop Cars
Midnight, on a nice summer night. The air smells sweet and the breeze is lovely. Millions of stars twinkle in the night. Silence amidth a few street lights and no one walking around that I could see. At the turn of the street, Newton Street to be precise, cops, guns and a couple of black young men handcuffed behind their backs, picked up from their home stoop... This was my first encounter as I laid foot in Algiers, New Orleans this morning, 5 hours after a curfew imposed at gun point.
All of this mayhem was next to the clinic created by Bork, a well known poverty activist and the co-founder of Mayday-DC, a homeless advocacy group. There were a couple of cop cars with their lights flashing "arrest!", a Homeland Security van and some 6 unmarked cars with a sticker or two among them reading POLICE supporting some 12 dark blue uniformed ICE POLICE cops (New Orleans local cops) and an immigration officer. They refused to ID themselves or tell us what was going on. Later I learned that they also arrested a third person, a 30 year old young woman working in an auto parts shop, and that these sweeps happen every night, completely out of control. "I am glad there is finally media to document what is going on here," says the officer in army fatigue, a National guard foot soldier. "The stories we hear are unreal, corruption is rampant," he adds.
We had asked him to escort us as press like they escort the journalists in Iraq so we could get closer as the cops were forbidding us at gun point from getting close enough to capture much on tape, and except for 2 of them, refused to identify themselves or tell us how many people they were arresting and why. "Such irregularities happen every night", say some of the Cop Watch groups who were patrolling the neighberhood. Others add, "They are hitting people too. They say its drugs, they talk of curfew, but what is really going on is that Algiers, being the highest point of New Orleans is prime real estate, and it is up for grabs. They have already started bulldozing the 9th Ward. Their plan is to build casinoes there. It is an upstream battle. We need people to come back to help rebuild and to resist this gunpoint-imposed gentrification. When Mayor Nagin calls for people to come back, people need to know that they will have support. The water spared many places, but we need help. We need to counter the propaganda that it is unsafe to be in New Orleans, that it is contaminated." "We need people who can to come and bear witness to what is going on."
I hope I have started doing just that in this first New Orleans journal...bearing witness to what goes on. I was called on by Concei (going back and forth from DC with supplies,) and people here, Cobie (a WBIX reporter and a 6 years sundancer), Suncere (co-founder of Cafe Mawanaj), the co-founder of Radio Algiers at ahimsa-radio1.indymedia.org:8200/algiers.mp3, Bork (co-founder of Mayday-DC who rushed to help as soon as she heard.
Messages Depict Disarray in Federal Katrina Response
Messages Depict Disarray in Federal Katrina Response
By Spencer S. Hsu
The Washington Post
Tuesday 18 October 2005
As Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans on Aug. 29, Michael D. Brown, then director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, appeared confused over whether Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff had put him in charge, senior military officials could not reach Brown and his team became swamped by the speed of the unfolding disaster, according to e-mails to and from Brown.
When Chertoff belatedly named Brown the on-site disaster coordinator on the night of Aug. 30 and declared Katrina an "incident of national significance" - the highest- order catastrophe under a new national response plan - Brown and his assistants privately complained.
"Demote the Under Sec to PFO [Principal Federal Officer]?" an outraged FEMA press secretary Sharon Worthy wrote Brown at 10:54 p.m., soon after Chertoff's decision. "What about the precedent being set? What does this say about executive management and leadership in the Agency?"
"Exactly," replied Brown, then-under secretary for preparedness and response, according to e-mails obtained by The Washington Post.
The e-mails also show that the government's response plan, two years in the making, began breaking down even before Katrina hit the Gulf Coast. Before the storm hit, Brown's deputy chief of staff, Brooks Altshuler, said White House pressure to form an interagency crisis management group was irrelevant, even though a task force and principal federal officer are key parts of the plan.
"Let them play their raindeer games as long as they are not turning around and tasking us with their stupid questions. None of them have a clue about emergency management," Altshuler told Brown and Brown's chief of staff, Patrick Rhode.
The documents offer a glimpse of the disarray in preparations for and the response to Katrina, for which FEMA has been widely criticized. A misunderstanding of national disaster plan roles, communications failures, delayed decision-making and absent voices of leadership mark the documents, which came as a partial response by FEMA's parent agency, the Department of Homeland Security, to a request by a House select investigative committee.
The Post obtained copies of 20 of about 80 e-mails to and from Brown between Aug. 23 and Sept. 12.
There are many gaps in the record. For instance, there are few references to Chertoff or the White House. Brown has testified that he was in at least daily telephone or e-mail contact with Chertoff and White House Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr. or his deputy, Joe Hagin.
The Homeland Security Department has not completed its response to the House panel's request for Brown's e-mails and for his correspondence with Chertoff or his predecessor as secretary, Tom Ridge, regarding the development of FEMA's budget since 2003.
Brown has said the department caused "the emaciation of FEMA" by cutting funds, staff and denying spending on a New Orleans hurricane preparedness plan.
Chertoff's voice is markedly absent from the correspondence so far, said I. Michael Greenberger, a former Clinton administration official who heads the Center for Health and Homeland Security at the University of Maryland. "Chertoff appears to be sort of an interested overseer, rather than the chief of staff to the president managing this in Washington," he said.
Chertoff is scheduled to testify Wednesday before the House Katrina committee, his first extended public appearance on Capitol Hill regarding the disaster.
A spokesman for Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.), chairman of the investigation, declined to discuss the documents yesterday, saying members will ask Chertoff about them Wednesday.
"Davis wants to know if Michael Brown had it right. Does Secretary Chertoff agree that FEMA has grown emaciated, that its budget's been hijacked and that it's been organizationally undermined since Congress folded it into DHS?" Davis spokesman David Marin said.
Asked about the e-mails, Homeland Security spokesman Russ Knocke cautioned: "It is extraordinarily difficult to extract a clear understanding of everything that was going on from a single e-mail, or even a few e-mails." As reviews continue, he said, "We'll undoubtedly deconflict some individual accounts."
The documents show a quick breakdown in communications after the hurricane hit Aug. 29. With telephone and wireless reception spotty, FEMA's operations center resorted to e-mailing Brown the next afternoon to ask him to call Acting Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon R. England.
As late as Sept. 1, the head of the military's Hurricane Katrina Task Force, Army Lt. Gen. Russel Honore, was unable to reach Brown and asked FEMA officials to track down his satellite phone.
"He [Honore] wants to speak with Mike very badly," FEMA aides wrote at 1 p.m. Three hours later, the reply came from a Brown aide: "Not here in [Mississippi.] Is in [Louisiana], as far as I know."
The first FEMA request to the Defense Department was not reported in Brown's e-mails until 10 a.m. on Sept. 2 - nearly three days later - seeking "full logistical support to the Katrina disaster in all [emergency] declared states."
Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco (D) requested 40,000 U.S. troops on Aug. 31.
Brown's e-mails show that FEMA leaders acted on information that conflicts with the timeline released by Homeland Security a week after the hurricane. Altshuler's e-mail of Aug. 28, for example, referred to White House pressure to create the interagency team that would include FEMA, the Pentagon, the State Department and others. The group began meeting Aug. 26, according to the department timeline.
Knocke said that the group convened Aug. 29, but that individuals received updates earlier.
Memo: FEMA Had Problems before Katrina
By Lara Jakes Jordan
The Associated Press
Monday 17 October 2005
Washington - FEMA struggled to locate food, ice, water and even body bags in the days following Hurricane Katrina, a frantic effort punctuated by bureaucratic chaos, infighting and concerns about media coverage, according to memos obtained Monday by The Associated Press.
Five days after the storm hit on Aug. 29, Michael Brown, then director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, e-mailed an aide saying there had been "no action from us" to evacuate storm victims using planes that airlines had made available.
"This is flat wrong. We have been flying planes all afternoon and evening," a subordinate, Michael Lowder, e-mailed in reply less than 30 minutes later.
A day earlier, a FEMA official in Mississippi received an e-mail asking for Brown's satellite phone number so a senior Pentagon official in the Gulf Coast could call him. "Not here in MS (Mississippi). Is in LA (Louisiana) as far as I know," FEMA official William Carwile e-mailed back, seemingly uncertain on the whereabouts of the administration's point man for responding to the disaster.
Battling their own difficulties, FEMA officials were less than complimentary of Louisiana officials.
"This one really has me worried," Brown confided in an Aug. 27 e-mail, as the storm bore down on the Gulf Coast. "I wish a certain governor was from Louisiana ... and his emergency manager," Brown e-mailed Craig Fugate, emergency manager in Florida, where Jeb Bush is governor.
A few hours later, Patrick Rhode, FEMA's deputy director, e-mailed Brown, "I'm hoping they get serious about evacuating New Orleans."
Florida pitched in with supplies, according to a Sept. 1 e-mail that showed just how badly FEMA needed them two days after the storm inflicted widespread damage across several states and led to flooding in New Orleans.
"Food is also critical. Need MRE (ready to eat meals) and/or heater meals if you have any. Water, ice, food in eastern counties should be your priority....
"Also know FL is providing law enforcement. Need all you can send. Public safety major concern (looting etc.) Have used Dixie C. body bags (250) got more?" Carwile e-mailed Fugate.
Tue 18 Oct, 2005 06:01 pm
Bush Is in No Hurry on Katrina Recovery
Bush Is in No Hurry on Katrina Recovery
By Peter G. Gosselin
The Los Angeles Times
Monday 17 October 2005
The president's go-slow approach is called a recipe for chaos, even by fellow Republicans.
Washington - Almost two months after Hurricane Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast and a month after promising in a nationally televised speech to help rebuild the region "quickly," President Bush has settled on a cautious, piecemeal approach that even many members of his own party fear will stall reconstruction and sow economic disarray.
Bush has made highly publicized trips to Louisiana and Mississippi on average of once a week since the storm, but the administration has yet to introduce legislation for two of the three proposals the president highlighted during his September speech from New Orleans.
In the case of the third proposal, $5,000 accounts to help workers left unemployed by the hurricane, an administration-drafted House bill would provide aid for fewer than a quarter of the jobless.
Despite mounting evidence that Washington is having trouble putting to use most of the $62 billion in emergency funds approved by Congress so far, the president has resisted appointing a recovery coordinator or further detailing his vision of how to tackle rebuilding. In interviews last week, he explained that he wanted state and local officials to act first.
"I recognize there's an attitude in Washington that says, 'We know better than the local people.' That's just not the attitude I have," Bush told NBC's "Today" show.
Bush's cautiousness appears to be partly a response to some conservatives' clamor for federal budget cuts to offset aid to the Gulf Coast.
In addition, the scale and complexity of reconstruction pose special challenges for an administration that firmly favors market mechanisms over government action, at least domestically.
With the immediate crisis past, administration officials may be hoping that state and local efforts - and the free market - will relieve them of the thorniest decisions, as well as a substantial chunk of the estimated $200-billion price tag for the region's revival.
However, a variety of prominent Republicans warn that the president's approach is a recipe for trouble.
"So far, all we've done is shovel money out the door to meet the humanitarian needs," said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa). "But henceforth, we've got to be very careful how we spend the money, and that means we're going to need a plan and somebody in charge."
A former Cabinet member had similar concerns.
"With all due respect to the president, things are not going to bubble up from the bottom," said Jack Kemp, who was Housing and Urban Development secretary under President George H.W. Bush. "There has to be some federal leadership here."
Without clear signals from Washington, some reconstruction decisions are essentially being made on autopilot, raising the risk that the region and the nation will repeat past mistakes.
In New Orleans, for example, the Army Corps of Engineers last week put an estimated $400 million of work out to bid to bring the area's levee and canal system back to its pre-Katrina condition. Corps officials said the work was necessary to secure the city while more extensive protections were designed.
The corps' plans include reviving a large, and largely unused, canal known as "Mr. Go" - the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet - that environmentalists and many local officials say funneled storm surge from Katrina into neighborhoods, increasing rather than reducing the devastation.
"The White House has studiously avoided making any choices about what should be rebuilt, and the corps has taken that to mean rebuild everything," said David R. Conrad, a senior water resources specialist with the National Wildlife Federation and a veteran corps watcher.
White House officials discounted such criticism Friday and said they had the rebuilding effort well in hand.
Aides said officials were working behind the scenes to ensure that all of the proposals unveiled by the president in his New Orleans speech became law. (In addition to the worker accounts, Bush called for a Gulf Opportunity Zone, or GO Zone, that would provide tax breaks and loans to small businesses, as well as an Urban Homesteading Act that would give low-income families surplus government property and favorable mortgage rates in exchange for the promise to build homes.)
Meanwhile, administration budget officials are preparing another emergency spending bill - this time for about $20 billion, much of it for such clearly defined projects as rebuilding military bases and a NASA facility. The aides said that Bush had not ruled out proposing a reconstruction "czar" or coordinator, though such a post could not "compete with state and local decision-makers."
But if administration work on reconstruction is proceeding, it seems not to be occurring with anything like the urgency and decisiveness that Bush suggested it would when he stood before the cameras in a darkened and largely deserted New Orleans for his Sept. 15 address.
Then, he pledged: "We will do what it takes, we will stay as long as it takes, to help citizens rebuild their communities and their lives."
He promised "one of the largest reconstruction efforts the world has ever seen" and said: "Our goal is to get the work done quickly."
The president's shift from such bold rhetoric toward talk about the limits of federal involvement and the need for local and private-sector leadership is at least partly traceable to an unexpected revolt by congressional conservatives recently.
Led by the 100-plus members of the House Republican Study Committee, conservatives have insisted that any new spending for Katrina be offset by fresh budget cuts. Their suggestions include killing politically favored highway projects and delaying Bush's signature Medicare prescription drug benefit.
"We saw the White House engaging in an aggressive, multifront drive to rebuild the Gulf Coast, and we thought we ought to bring up the small matter of the bill," said committee Chairman Mike Pence (R-Ind.).
Bush aides dispatched Budget Director Joshua B. Bolten to strike a deal that included an administration promise to seek offsets for most new spending. That has given the White House Office of Management and Budget power to shape rebuilding that it did not have in the early going.
"It's put OMB in the driver's seat, and OMB is running a budget process, not trying to come up with a unified response to a national crisis," said one senior House Appropriations Committee staff member, who like most Capitol Hill staffers asked not to be identified.
More than budget politics, however, is at work in Bush's shift of approach.
As the full dimensions of the rebuilding task become clear, Democrats and some GOP leaders are calling for a degree of government involvement that the president almost certainly finds objectionable. The White House appears to be searching for a way to put primary responsibility for coordinating the work on state and local officials.
But by wiping out whole communities, Katrina created problems that even some Republicans argue cannot be handled by individuals and market mechanisms alone.
"Where once you had an operating society, now there's nothing - no firetruck, no school, no grocery store to buy a loaf of bread," said Rep. Richard H. Baker (R-La.).
Such devastation creates a sort of chicken-and-egg problem, Baker said. "The question is, Who goes first?" If firefighters and police officers return to their communities first, they will have no equipment or food. If car dealers and retailers are the first, they will have no protection.
By offering tax breaks and encouraging local leaders to come up with rebuilding proposals, the White House implicitly hopes Gulf Coast residents solve the riddle themselves.
But Baker thinks that's unlikely. Last week, he proposed that Washington create a Louisiana Recovery Corp. aimed at making commitments to rebuild whole communities at once, so that residents have the assurances they need to invest there. The corporation would be able to borrow from the government and financial markets, buy up ruined areas and hire developers to rebuild them. Homeowners and local businesses could sell their storm-damaged properties to the firm or reserve spots in the rebuilt communities. If they refused to do either, the corporation could take the properties by eminent domain.
In a separate proposal, conservative Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) and liberal Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) called for a Cabinet-level Gulf Coast Recovery and Disaster Preparedness Agency, which would be the conduit for all federal funds to the region. A companion agency with a board of mostly state and local officials would come up with the rebuilding plan.
"You need a single point where all federal funds go through so you have accountability," Gregg said.
White House officials have all but rejected the Gregg-Kennedy proposal and offered only a polite nod to the Baker plan.
The administration has "bought into the idea this should be a bottom-up thing," Gregg said. "The danger is confusion, inefficiency and huge bureaucratic frustration."
In the absence of a clear reconstruction plan, many residents are adrift.
On Wednesday, retired schoolteacher Carolyn Pierce, 63, briefly returned to her white clapboard house at the corner of Gordon and Royal streets beside the huge levees around New Orleans' Lower 9th Ward. It was the first time she had seen it since Katrina struck Aug. 29. About all that escaped the floodwaters were a pair of pennants pinned high on the living room wall that read "Pray for Work!" and "God Loves You."
Asked if she would move back to her old neighborhood and house, Pierce said: "I have no idea. I have no idea what we're supposed to do.
"I want a plan, but nobody seems to have a plan," she said. She stuffed a few books and a water-soaked dress in a green trash bag and left with her brother and a sister.
Lawmakers from the Gulf Coast praised the president for his repeated visits to the region, saying that when presented with specific problems - such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency's recent refusal to provide businesses with trailers to house workers - he had made sure difficulties were ironed out. But they said new problems cropped up in place of the old.
Lawmakers lauded Bush's call for states and localities to decide their own futures, but they said they feared it would be an excuse for Washington to retreat from the region.
"It's not an either-or thing," said Rep. Bobby Jindal (R-La.). "You can be for local decision-making and for a federal effort that cut across the usual bureaucratic lines."
Bush is playing to similar mixed reviews in Washington, where fellow Republicans as well as policy analysts usually sympathetic to the administration said they had been baffled by an apparent lack of follow-through after the New Orleans speech.
Among the complaints: that after an initial rush of spending, the administration has been unable to make use of most of the billions of dollars it requested immediately after Katrina, and that it has offered only the sketchiest of accounts for what it has done with the money it has spent.
FEMA, which received almost $60 billion of the $62 billion in emergency funds, had "obligated" or assigned only $15.6 billion as of last Wednesday - less than a third of the money available - according to a weekly report the agency sends Congress.
"The president put out some very large ideas, but the administration isn't leading on them in any very public way," said Stuart M. Butler, vice president of domestic and economic policy at the conservative Heritage Foundation think tank. "There's been a general hands-off approach, which is disturbing."
Kemp, the former HUD secretary, agreed.
"Laissez-faire, Darwinian capitalism is not going to work here," Kemp said. "Markets do work, but they need the direction of government in situations like this."
Tue 18 Oct, 2005 07:38 pm
On top of all this chaos, the billions of dollars being spent in Iraq is not even managed properly so the potential for fraud is great. This government removed all the auditors from Iraq when the insurgency threatened their safety. The money is now being spent without any oversight.
Incompetence at this administration's level of governance in everything they handle is inexcusable, yet almost forty percent of Americans still think they are doing a good job. Go figure.
Fri 30 Dec, 2005 01:29 am
Army Offers Reservists Jobs in Hometowns
Friday December 30, 2005 7:02 AM
By LOLITA C. BALDOR
Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) - At a cost of as much as $20 million, more than 200 National Guard soldiers returning to Louisiana from Iraq are staying on active duty for up to a year so they can have full-time work in their hurricane-ravaged hometowns.
A program intended to give returning reservists jobs if their old ones were wiped out by hurricanes Katrina and Rita is drawing interest too from 60 National Guard soldiers from a Mississippi brigade, according to Col. Billy Thomas, deputy commander of the Army's Task Force Care.
The Louisiana Guard members were preparing to head home from Iraq when Katrina hit at the end of August. Many of the soldiers who were part of the 256th Brigade Combat Team now are helping to rebuild and restore Guard facilities in Louisiana that were damaged.
``The advantage is they have full-time employment,'' said Thomas, who came out of retirement to help manage the benefits and other aid for members of the military affected by Katrina.
``They came back home after fighting a war, and they had no way to make a living. So the Army has offered them a chance to stay on active duty and help the state to rebuild,'' Thomas said.
About 3,000 soldiers from the 256th brigade were in Iraq, and about the same number of the 155th Brigade Combat Team from Mississippi have served there and are just now heading home.
Many of the Louisiana soldiers were allowed to come home a little earlier than initially planned because of the disaster. Hundreds suffered property damage; dozens were unable to contact family members in the days just after Katrina hit.
Many soldiers returned home to find their homes and employers gone, Thomas said. Extending their active duty, he said, not only gave them salaries, but also is filling construction and engineering jobs needed to repair the bases, including a National Guard headquarters in New Orleans.
So far, he said, 211 of the Guard members have received extensions of their active duty status, which can last up to a year. The estimated cost of a yearlong extension is $100,000 in salary and benefits, which would be more than $200 million total. However, some may not stay that long if their previous jobs are re-established.
In addition, 59 members of the 155th Brigade have begun the application process for extended duty in their state.
The state of Louisiana has funded a similar program; it pays for reservists to extend their active duty to work in the state. So far, Thomas said, 253 reservists signed up.
Among the military facilities greatly damaged by Katrina, was Camp Shelby, a 136,000-acre base near Hattiesburg, Miss. It serves as a training facility for National Guard and active duty troops preparing to deploy overseas.
Army officials are running the task force out of Camp Shelby, setting up benefits for soldiers evacuated or affected by the hurricanes.
Service members and their families left homeless after the hurricanes are also eligible for other benefits.
So far, the task force has processed 3,147 claims from Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine families who were evacuated from their homes and had to pay for other lodging. The families could be reimbursed for up to six months of housing and other costs amounting to between $65 and $150 per day, depending on what city they are in, Thomas said.
The families must submit their bills to the Defense Department for payment. Thomas said it is not known yet how much the per diems will cost the federal government.
But, he said, ``this is something we felt good about. It's a program where the Army and the Defense Department have stepped up and said we're going to take care of our soldiers.''
Author and critic Nik Cohn has been obsessed by New Orleans for more than 30 years, and has been involved in the rap scene there for the last five. Six months after Hurricane Katrina he revisited the city and was stunned by what he found. In this compelling despatch he describes communitites struggling to piece together their lives as they watch their city being ripped apart by politicians and planners with designs on a very different New Orleans.
Washington Post: White House Had Early Warning on Katrina
'Wash Post': White House Had Early Warning on Katrina
By E&P Staff
Published: January 23, 2006 12:10 AM ET
Documents obtained by The Washington Post reveal, according to the newspaper, that in the 48 hours before Hurricane Katrina hit last August, the White House "received detailed warnings about the storm's likely impact, including eerily prescient predictions of breached levees, massive flooding, and major losses of life and property."
The 41-page assessment by the Department of Homeland Security's National Infrastructure Simulation and Analysis Center (NISAC) was delivered by e-mail to the White House's "situation room" in the early hours of Aug. 29, the day the storm hit, according to an e-mail cover sheet.
The NISAC paper warned that a storm of Katrina's size would "likely lead to severe flooding and/or levee breaching" and noted the potential for levee failures along Lake Pontchartrain. "It predicted economic losses in the tens of billions of dollars, including damage to public utilities and industry that would take years to fully repair," writes Washington Post reporter Joby Warrick in the Tuesday paper. "Initial response and rescue operations would be hampered by disruption of telecommunications networks and the loss of power to fire, police and emergency workers, it said.
"In a second document, also obtained by The Washington Post, a computer slide presentation by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, prepared for a 9 a.m. meeting on Aug. 27, two days before Katrina made landfall, compared Katrina's likely impact to that of 'Hurricane Pam,' a fictional Category 3 storm used in a series of FEMA disaster-preparedness exercises simulating the effects of a major hurricane striking New Orleans. But Katrina, the report warned, could be worse.
"The documents shed new light on the extent on the administration's foreknowledge about Katrina's potential for unleashing epic destruction on New Orleans and other Gulf Coast cities and towns. President Bush, in a televised interview three days after Katrina hit, suggested that the scale of the flooding in New Orleans was unexpected. 'I don't think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees. They did anticipate a serious storm,' Bush said in a Sept. 1 interview on ABC's 'Good Morning America.'"
The White House declined to comment yesterday on the specifics of the reports but noted that the president has repeatedly acknowledged his displeasure with preparations for Katrina. "
Tue 14 Feb, 2006 11:15 am
Experts question Chertoff's plan to fix FEMA
Posted on Mon, Feb. 13, 2006
Experts question Chertoff's plan to fix FEMA
By Seth Borenstein
Knight Ridder Newspapers
WASHINGTON - The key to fixing the problems that bedeviled the federal response to Hurricane Katrina is in the details, top Bush administration disaster officials said Monday. They proposed high-tech tracking of relief supplies, more federal disaster workers and a beefier Homeland Security Department.
But Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff's new disaster response plan fails to address the poor leadership that became apparent after Katrina slammed the Gulf Coast, outside disaster experts and administration critics said. Two Louisiana Democratic congressmen even called for Chertoff's ouster.
Monday's proposals came as House of Representatives investigators prepare to release a report on Wednesday that faults Chertoff for lapses during Katrina. His agency also is struggling to find a permanent replacement for Federal Emergency Management Agency chief Michael Brown, who resigned last fall in the days following Katrina's devastation.
At a meeting of state emergency management officials in Virginia on Monday, Chertoff said: "Our most urgent priority in the near term is to take a hard, honest look at what we can do to improve our response capability and make substantial progress toward that goal by the looming hurricane season."
Those state disaster officials, who are normally among the first to respond in a crisis, said that they're hearing some good proposals from Bush administration officials, but added that they're upset that the president is cutting federal planning money. On Tuesday, an association of state disaster officials will ask Congress to appropriate $250 million a year in planning funds. The Bush administration has proposed $170 million for the 2007 fiscal year, $13 million less than the budget for 2006.
At least four state disaster professionals have turned down overtures to run the FEMA, several emergency management officials told Knight Ridder.
On Tuesday, Chertoff will appear before the same Senate committee that heard former FEMA Director Brown lambaste his boss last week for tying his hands during the hurricane and for being obsessed instead with fighting terrorism.
Chertoff's decisions during Katrina are under scrutiny as details of the House's Katrina investigation emerge. Knight Ridder reported on Sept. 13 that Chertoff was responsible for the slow activation of the federal catastrophe plan.
"Perhaps the single most important question the (House) Select Committee has struggled to answer is why the federal response did not adequately anticipate the consequences of Katrina striking New Orleans," the House report concludes, according to a 59-page addendum released Monday by two Democratic congressmen. "At least part of the answer lies in the Secretary's failure to invoke the national response plan ... to clearly and forcefully instruct everyone involved with the federal response to be proactive."
The best way to strengthen disaster response is to remove FEMA from the Homeland Security Department and have the FEMA chief report directly to the president, as in the past, said Gen. Julius Becton, who was the FEMA director during the Reagan administration.
"As long as you require the FEMA director to go through two and three levels of bureaucracy to get a decision from the president, you're going to have a major problem," Becton said.
White House homeland security adviser Frances Fragos Townsend said Monday that she would release the results of her White House investigation later this month. That investigation found more than 100 changes that should be made to federal disaster planning.
Chertoff, in the first of four Bush administration officials' speeches to state emergency management officials on Monday, dismissed Brown's claims that Homeland Security was terrorism-obsessed, saying, "That kind of wedge makes no sense."
Chertoff outlined a stronger, more seamless Department of Homeland Security, with FEMA as one of many players, saying it's important to act "not as lone rangers, but as a unified team."
Chertoff presented several detailed-oriented proposals to Katrina problems. He talked of hiring more disaster professionals. He mentioned Federal Express-like tracking of relief supplies, improved emergency communications systems and better service to disaster victims. The communication problem was faulted by Sept. 11 investigators as a key issue in hampering rescue attempts during the 2001 attack on the World Trade Center.
Alabama disaster chief Bruce Baughman called the proposals "a good launch in the right direction," but other disaster experts said it wasn't aimed well. They pointed to a recent Government Accountability Office report and to the upcoming House report, saying the problem is leadership and accountability and that it starts at the Department of Homeland Security.
Penn State University public administration professor Beverly Cigler, who studied the response to Katrina for an association of public administration professionals, said some of the administration's changes would make matters worse by removing preparedness from FEMA.
"The way it is now, none of these piecemeal things will deal with FEMA being buried in a gigantic bureaucracy," Cigler said. "I think we are in worse shape now than we were pre-Katrina."
That's not the direction the Bush administration is heading, Townsend said.
"We must restore and re-earn your confidence and trust," Townsend said. "So if someone says, `I'm from the federal government and I'm here to help,' you can believe it and not laugh."