The independent and nonpartisan investigative agency of Congress, aka the GAO, the Government Accountability Office, published its initial findings on the failed response to the victims of Hurricane Katrina. The report didn’t finger lower-level officials, nor did it assign blame to local Louisiana and Mississippi officials.
Mr. David M. Walker, the Comptroller General of the GAO, stated in the report that, “In 1993 we recommended that the president designate a senior official in the White House to oversee federal preparedness for, and response to, major catastrophic disasters”. Fuggeddaboudit, was the reaction from the White House occupants.
It wasn’t until the Department of Homeland Security was set up after the 9-11 attacks, however, that the president would get around to designating someone to be Secretary of Homeland Security, “the senior official in the White House to oversee federal preparedness for, and response to, major catastrophic disasters”. The 22 separate agencies placed under the umbrella of that newly-formed DHS were given full responsibility for border security, emergency response, and other functions considered part of homeland security.
The GAO, therefore, assigned principal blame on that “senior official”, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, not lower-level officials, for the tardy and inadequate response to Hurricane Katrina. The GAO report states that Chertoff had failed to move quickly to mobilize resources despite warnings that Katrina was likely to be a devastating storm, and that his failure to name a single individual to spearhead the response was a prime factor in the delays and confusion that followed. Although the Federal Emergency Management Agency and most other federal units responsible for responding to Katrina are under his jurisdiction, Secretary Chertoff until now has escaped criticism for this botched response. Apparently observers were relying on the word from a higher authority that “Brownie”, one of Chertoff’s underlings, “ …was doing a heckuva job”.
Listen to how Ron Brinson describes the aftermath of the U.S. government’s lack of concern for the citizens of “The Big Easy”, one of the world’s most famous cities:
“The city of New Orleans, devastated in every possible way and operating day-to-day on a credit line expiring in March, teeters in a fiscal meltdown …
“More than 100,000 homes and businesses were destroyed and 100 days after Katrina, half of New Orleans is without power. The power company is in bankruptcy and has indicated that if it survives, rates will likely double next year.
“The disaster scattered New Orleans’ population of 470,000 people — estimated to be 70 percent native born. Only 70,000 have returned, stranding the original economy in a void of human resources. For too many New Orleans residents, there is no home at home.
“Only a third of the city’s hotel industry has reopened, a quarter of its restaurants. The city is losing more than $ 1 million a day in hospitality industry revenues, seriously threatening its ability to provide basic services.
“There are few grocery stores, limited hospital services and the dynamic New Orleans neighborhood church community is quiet.
“Predictably, the French Quarter and central business district are rebounding nicely, but nearby, huge sections of the city remain desolate wastelands, the mute summaries of death and destruction.
“Insurance claims are complicated by the quarrelsome distinction between flood and storm damages. In most cases, properties were underinsured. Real estate values are slipping. This disaster’s assaults on family units too often include financial ruin.
“There’s an absence of children. Only one public school had reopened in New Orleans as of last week. The community’s vast parochial school system is making better progress, but the Catholic Archdiocese is $ 40 million in debt.
“The disaster eliminated 38 percent of the jobs in greater New Orleans, but now every form of business struggles to find employees …
“Louisiana leaders correctly sense that the federal government’s post-storm urgency has diminished. Several federal financial assistance packages are stalled in Congress; and then there’s that background murmuring in Washington about the rationality of rebuilding New Orleans at such a huge cost, given its inherent topographical risk.”
[Ron’s remarkable assessment of the pitiful conditions in New Orleans can be found in the December 7th issue of the “Charleston Post and Courier.]
What Ron didn’t include in his commentary, however, are the murmurings of those around the country with respect to the government’s unconscionable treatment of the victims of Katrina. These murmurings appear regularly in hundreds of websites and even in the “letters to the editor” sections of our newspapers. Thoughtful Americans are wondering why:
• the administration is “staying the course” in its efforts to promote death and destruction on foreign countries while refusing to prevent death and destruction in Louisiana and Mississippi.
• about 200,000 uniformed Americans are retained in Iraq just when their presence is so badly needed to shore up the Gulf States — our Gulf States.
• paltry funds are being metered out for the welfare of our disenfranchised, our sick and our elderly while shelling out more than $ 250 billion in our aggressive attempt to take over a third-world country like Iraq.
Is it any wonder that the city of New Orleans … teeters in a fiscal meltdown?