A number of readers have written to ask about our reaction to the 379-page House report on Katrina released last Wednesday. I've been slowly sifting through the details of the report, and here are some brief thoughts and reactions:
1) Why does Michael Chertoff still have a job? The Department of Homeland Security is singled out in the report, and Chertoff and the administration have accepted a degree of responsibility. But where's the accountability, in the form of consequences? As Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS) says:
"The failings of the department are ultimately [Homeland Security Secretary Michael] Chertoff's fault," said Thompson, one of several Democrats who would like to see Chertoff fired. "As the report said, there was a failure of his leadership. He was strongly detached ... "Now, after the fact, the secretary is saying that the department will put the systems in place to ensure that such a catastrophe does not happen again. Now he's saying he'll buy the equipment...It should have been in place already."
2) Why the focus on just the botched relief effort? There were a series of problems that led to Katrina's destruction, most notably the failure of federal levees that flooded 80% of New Orleans. The Army Corps of Engineers and the failed levee system are barely mentioned.
3) Why no focus on the rebuilding failure? The report is mostly about assessing blame for the failed relief effort. But what about the failed rebuilding effort? In our trip to New Orleans last week, we travelled through miles of the city that have no water, electricity or medical care. Only 15% of the schools have re-opened. Most of the jobs haven't come back. Vast areas of the city are polluted and the EPA hasn't offered any plan to clean it up.
This is the larger tragedy of Katrina, and the reason why thousands of people are deciding they might never return. But the House committee didn't want to go there, because it would imply a criticism of their foot-dragging and numbers-rigging in delivering Katrina aid.
4) Good news: the report is getting results. There is no doubt that without the House report, Bush would not have sent his $19.8 billion "hurricane recovery package" to Congress yesterday. And -- credit where it's due -- there are some good pieces in the package:
Bush's proposal would provide new money for uninsured flood victims in Louisiana and almost $1.5 billion to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to strengthen New Orleans' levees and restore Louisiana wetlands.
It asks Congress for $3.1 billion to repair federal buildings - including a veterans' hospital in New Orleans - and restore shipyards and national parks in Mississippi and Louisiana.
It also would provide $1.3 billion to the Small Business Administration, which ran out of money to give hurricane victims low-interest loans, and $9.4 billion to replenish the Federal Emergency Management Agency's disaster relief fund.
It's too late, and pales in comparison to the bloated $72 billion+ Bush is asking for war. And it clearly is an attempt to save face in the wake of damaging criticism from his own party.
But at this point, people in the Gulf will take it.