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Republican panel rips Katrina response

House report: Government response 'dismal'; Chertoff singled out



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Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)
New Orleans (Louisiana)
Disasters (General)
Michael Chertoff

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The response of government at all levels to Hurricane Katrina was "dismal," poorly planned and badly coordinated, showing that more than four years after the September 11, 2001, terror attacks, "America is still not ready for prime time," a House report concludes.

"It remains difficult to understand how government could respond so ineffectively to a disaster that was anticipated for years, and for which specific dire warnings had been issued for days. This crisis was not only predictable, it was predicted," the committee said in the report. "If 9/11 was a failure of imagination, then Katrina was a failure of initiative. It was a failure of leadership."

The findings of the House investigative committee are striking because the panel consisted of 11 Republicans; the House Democrats boycotted the committee after pushing unsuccessfully for an independent probe.

The report will be officially released Wednesday.

The panel took Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff to task for waiting until two days after the storm hit to activate a national response plan and for appointing Michael Brown, then director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, to lead the federal response even though he was not trained to take on that role.

The report also said President Bush did not receive adequate advice and counsel from disaster officials. The panel concluded that "earlier presidential involvement might have resulted in a more effective response."

The White House also failed "to de-conflict varying damage assessments and discounted information that ultimately proved accurate," the committee said.

The report, which runs more than 500 pages, called the response to Katrina "a national failure, an abdication of the most solemn obligation to provide for the common welfare."

"At every level -- individual, corporate, philanthropic and governmental -- we failed to meet the challenge that was Katrina. In this cautionary tale, all the little pigs built houses of straw," the report stated.

Coming in for specific criticism in the report was Chertoff, whose department contains FEMA.

The panel said Chertoff should have designated Katrina as an incident of national significance on August 27, two days before landfall, when the National Weather Service predicted New Orleans would be struck by a Category 4 or Category 5 storm. That designation activates the national response plan, a 426-page document that outlines the relationship between federal, state and local agencies.

Chertoff did not make that designation until August 31, two days after the storm struck, when much of New Orleans was already under water.

On August 31, Chertoff also named Brown as the principal federal officer in charge of the response to Katrina. The House panel said he also should have taken that step two days before the storm -- and should have appointed someone who had completed the required training for that role.

Brown resigned as FEMA chief after his handling of the disaster came under fire.

Anticipating the House panel's critical findings, Chertoff said Monday that while reviews of the government's failures have been difficult, "I accept responsibility." But he also strongly rejected suggestions that his department shortchanged disaster-response efforts by concentrating its resources on terrorism.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Tuesday that Bush has not talked to Chertoff about resigning.

"The president appreciates his strong leadership," McClellan said.

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