Hurricane Katrina Forest Recovery

As we work together to tackle the historic challenge that Hurricane Katrina has presented to the forestry communities of Mississippi, Louisiana, and Alabama, we hope that this blog will be a valuable resource and tool.

Thursday, February 23

White House to Issue Own Storm Report

The Associated Press

A White House assessment of the sluggish federal response to Hurricane Katrina calls for better defining the military's role during catastrophes, opening the door for the Pentagon to oversee government relief efforts in extreme cases, officials said Wednesday.

The "lessons learned" review of 125 recommendations, to be released today, does not call for any resignations, despite recent demands - mostly by Democrats - for Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff to step down. It also recommends keeping the beleaguered Federal Emergency Management Agency under Chertoff's control, according to a Bush administration official.

Though some agencies, like the Coast Guard, successfully rescued tens of thousands of storm victims, "there are other areas where all levels of government fell short - the federal, the state and the local," White House spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters.
"What we want to do is take a close look at what worked and what didn't work and apply those lessons to the future," he said.

The report, by White House homeland security adviser Frances Fragos Townsend, was expected to be less scathing than a House report issued last week. The House review blamed all levels of government for indifference toward disaster preparations that contributed to deaths and suffering in Katrina's aftermath. That study, by a Republican-led House committee, also found that earlier involvement by President Bush could have spurred a faster response.

Bush, who ordered the White House report, has accepted responsibility for the government's halting response to the Aug. 29 storm. The hurricane killed 1,300 people and forced hundreds of thousands of Gulf Coast residents to abandon their damaged or destroyed homes.
The review offers solutions to only some of the government's shortfalls, according to a senior administration official familiar with a draft of the 125 recommendations.

But the document, which a congressional aide said approaches 200 pages, proposes some sweeping changes to federal response plans. They include better defining the military's role during response missions - potentially making the Pentagon the lead agency when state and local resources are overwhelmed, two officials said.

That would only happen in the worst of catastrophic disasters, such as storms of Katrina's magnitude and terror attacks, the officials said. Currently, the Homeland Security Department coordinates federal disaster relief missions under a national response plan it issued last year.
A second administration official said Chertoff would keep his job under the review despite recent calls - mostly by Democrats - for the security chief's resignation.

That official said FEMA will remain under Chertoff's control, even though critics have called for the agency to be removed from Homeland Security and answer directly to the president.


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