Not so fast, FEMA

January 18, 2009

Michael Brown (aka “Heckuva job, Brownie”) was one of the public faces of the Bush administration’s incompetent, indefensible response to Hurricane Katrina. Former FEMA chief Brown is long gone, but the agency under Bush is still an inept department that continues the outgoing President’s legacy in his final days in office.

For the last three years, FEMA has stalled and stonewalled to try and deflect its responsibility and accountability to Louisiana and its people. (Let’s not forget the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, too, which, under the Bush administration, has taken the same tack to avoid committing to Category 5 levee protection for Louisiana. )

Bush’s public, widely panned image-rehabilitation press tour in past weeks has included his ridiculous attempts to defend his Katrina response. FEMA, by contrast, is trying to keep its failings as quiet as possible. After missing crucial deadlines required by law by more than a year, Bush’s FEMA department is trying to slip out of Washington, D.C. under the cover of night, hoping no one notices its failures. Democratic U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu isn’t letting that happen, and caught FEMA trying to underplay a crucial report. Here’s Landrieu’s official statement:

“They have a saying in Washington to describe the release of bad news on a Friday evening — they call it ‘taking out the trash.’

“Last night at 10 p.m., FEMA notified my staff that it would finally release a version of the National Disaster Housing Strategy (NDHS) complete with the seven annexes that were missing when they initially released the report in July. At 10:21 p.m., the strategy was released.

“I am disappointed that in the final hours of its term, this administration waited until the Friday night before Martin Luther King, Jr., Day and the Inaugural ceremony to release a report that is so critical to enabling FEMA to handle catastrophic disasters. It is as if they hoped they could release the report without anyone noticing.

“My staff is reviewing the document to see that it is consistent with the legal requirements set out in the Post Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act (PKEMRA). Already, the staff has found that Annex Six, in which FEMA was required to list any new authorities it needs to improve its performance, remains completely blank. We are still reviewing the rest of the document.

“I will say this; we do not know when the next catastrophe will strike. The complete Strategy was required by law to be submitted to Congress in July of 2007. A year and a half has now passed since that deadline was missed, and a year and a half more time wasted before FEMA is fully prepared to handle a catastrophic housing crisis. I intend to call FEMA before the Subcommittee on Disaster Recovery to publicly examine the NDHS and ensure that it meets legal requirements. And, as we head into a new administration, I am prepared to work with Secretary-designate Napolitano and other leaders to ensure that FEMA will be stronger and better prepared than ever.”

The Louisiana Democratic Party looks forward to Gov. Bobby Jindal’s comment on this FEMA report.

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