Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Understanding FEMA

This Salon article is quite thought-provoking in explaining how FEMA was destroyed:

Indeed, the White House's new response to the political disaster prompted by Katrina -- one in which officials are attempting to blame authorities in Louisiana, rather than in Washington, for the slow aid -- underscores the Bush philosophy. According to Haddow, instead of working with local officials to try to minimize the impacts of an impending storm, the White House has decided its best strategy is to keep its distance from people on the ground. That way if anything goes wrong, the White House can "attack, attack, attack."

We began to see some of these attacks over the weekend. Sunday's Washington Post cited an anonymous Bush administration official who explained that one reason that the federal government didn't intervene more quickly in Louisiana was because Kathleen Blanco, the state's Democratic governor, failed to declare a state of emergency there, a necessary step for federal help to flow. An article in Newsweek repeats the same claim.

But there's a problem with the White House's excuse: It's patently false. As Josh Marshall points out, Blanco declared a state of emergency on Aug. 26 -- a day before Bush declared a federal emergency in Louisiana. (You can see Blanco's official declaration in PDF format here; the Washington Post has corrected its article.) On Aug. 28 -- the day before Katrina made landfall -- Blanco followed her declaration with an official letter (PDF) to Bush that requested all manner of emergency supplies her state would need for the aftermath.

Haddow says that these requests should have been enough -- more than enough -- to prompt a full-scale federal response. Under the Clinton administration's FEMA, with Witt as the head, a storm of Katrina's magnitude would have prompted federal and state officials to actually meet in order to coordinate their response. "You were all working together to anticipate needs," Haddow says. "You're all sitting in the same room when the things happened -- the Midwest flood, the Northridge quake, the Oklahoma City bombing and all the disasters we responded to. We were in the same room together and nobody had to point fingers."