The Northern Virginia Daily's Political Depot

A service for our readers outside the Northern Shenandoah Valley... a sampling of The Daily's political coverage, plus unofficial, 'reporter's notebook' stuff. And occasional dry humor...

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Location: Strasburg, Virginia

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Ex-Fed official slams agencies’ response to Katrina, Rita; B1

Former board member calls federal reaction ‘slow, confused, floundering’

By Garren Shipley
(Daily Staff Writer)

WINCHESTER — The federal response to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita has been nothing short of “slow, confused and floundering,” and all involved in the effort are in dire need of a single leader to coordinate federal reconstruction efforts.

That’s what Andrew Brimmer, former chairman of the Financial Control Board, the authority set up by Congress during the Clinton administration to repair the finances of Washington, D.C., and the first black member of Federal Reserve’s Board of Governors, told a crowd at Shenandoah University on Wednesday.

Brimmer, who was researching the matter for the federal government, is set to deliver the report from which his remarks were drawn to the White House today.

A Cabinet-level commission, comprised of both state and federal officials, should be created immediately to serve both an oversight and steering function for all government efforts at all levels, he said.

Katrina and Rita “created a great deal of destruction, and above all its created a great deal of human dislocation and misery,” Brimmer said.

Agencies designed to provide help during disasters, both state and federal, took major hits during the storms, he said.

“Both of these two storms signaled their coming with ample warning time. Let me repeat that. There was ample warning,” he said. “Nevertheless, the status of preparation … by public officials varied greatly.”

The response to Rita was better, he said. “Perhaps the Texas officials did learn something from the Katrina failures.”

The federal government simply wasn’t ready, and the results showed on the ground, he said.

Public policy in response to the disasters has been “confused, wandering [and] politically motivated,” he said. “Above all, it is a scene of a clash between the policies of the federal government and the policies of the state.”

“As the Katrina disaster unfolded, it quickly became evident that [the Federal Emergency Management Agency] was completely overwhelmed,” he said.

“There was no planning at Homeland Security for emergencies other than terrorist type attacks,” he said. Planning functions normally done by FEMA were moved to the Department of Homeland Security upon its creation, and budgets for it were cut.

When the hurricanes hit, the “few plans that it had were completely out of date,” and the agency couldn’t implement them, Brimmer said. As a result, “hundreds of people died unattended.”

Both before and after the storm, emergency planning failed because it was treated as a political enterprise, at both the state and federal levels.

Levee boards in Louisiana charged with protecting the city from Lake Ponchatrain were “very corrupt,” he said. At the national level, FEMA violated federal procurement laws and routed no-bid contracts to political contributors.

Why? “Because no one is checking,” Brimmer said. “Because no one kept the pressure on. No one monitored.”

Someone has to ride herd on the effort, and force the federal and state governments to work together.

“There has to be cooperation,” Brimmer said, “because these states also have direct responsibility to protect their own citizens.”