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White House Whitewash on Katrina? | The Nation

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 Washington: a city of denials, spin, and political calculations. The Nation's former DC editor David Corn spent 2002-2007 blogging on the policies, personalities and lies that spew out of the nation's capital. The complete archive appears below. Corn is now the DC editor at Mother Jones.

White House Whitewash on Katrina?

I first posted this at www.davidcorn.com....

We all know how much this White House cherishes self-examination and accountability. So it was safe to assume that its just-released report on Hurricane Katrina would be a no-holds-barred, blistering, tell-all account of what went wrong--from the streets of New Orleans all the way to the Oval Office. But--can you believe it?--the report somehow managed to miss the missteps that occurred at the White House. There's no accounting of why George W. Bush, Dick Cheney or Andrew Card didn't move quickly to supervise the federal response to Katrina. Perhaps a chapter was lost on the way to the printer. I've done a word search on the main body of the 228-page report. Looking for the phrase "White House," I found six pages on which the White House is mentioned; four of those are in the recommendation section and describe how the White House can be involved in a better response next time.

Here are the other references to the White House (the bold emphasis is mine):

* p. 36 -- [A]s late as 6:00 PM EDT that day [August 29, the day Katrina made landfall, the DHS Homeland Security Operations Center (HSOC) reported to senior DHS and White House officials that, "Preliminary reports indicate the levees in New Orleans have not been breached, however an assessment is still pending."

....At 6 PM EDT aboard a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter, Marty Bahamonde, a FEMA Public Affairs Official, observed the extent of the flooding and was "struck by how accurate" the earlier local reporting was of the levee breaches. He then called FEMA Director Michael Brown and other FEMA officials with his eyewitness account at approximately 8 PM EDT that day. Director Brown has testified that he subsequently called the White House to report the flooding information he received from Bahamonde. Following the calls, Mr. Bahamonde arranged a conference call with State, regional, and FEMA officials to recount what he had seen. An HSOC report marked 10:30 PM EDT, but not received at the White House until 12:02 AM EDT the next day, summarized the conference call and reported Mr. Bahamonde's observations on the extent of flooding throughout New Orleans.

* p. 49 -- These [faith-based groups] groups succeeded in their missions, mitigated suffering and helped victims survive mostly in spite of, not because of, the government. These groups deserve better next time. Jim Towey, Director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, said these folks were the foot soldiers and armies of compassion that victims of Katrina so desperately needed.

Did Bush do anything wrong? Apparently not. Well, to be fair, the report does gently suggest that he apparently failed to act on his vision. The foreword notes,

Hurricane Katrina prompted an extraordinary national response that included all levels of government--Federal, State, and local--the private sector, faith-based and charitable organizations, foreign countries, and individual citizens. People and resources rushed to the Gulf Coast region to aid the emergency response and meet victims' needs. Their actions saved lives and provided critical assistance to Hurricane Katrina survivors. Despite these efforts, the response to Hurricane Katrina fell far short of the seamless, coordinated effort that had been envisioned by President Bush when he ordered the creation of a National Response Plan in February 2003.

So Bush had done the appropriate pre-disaster work. He had "envisioned" a "seamless, coordinated effort." Yet somehow that envisioned response did not happen on its own--while Bush was playing guitar at a Navy base in San Diego the day after Katrina hit. Well, shouldn't Bush have fired whoever was responsible for not putting his vision into practice? I supposed that would not be too compassionate.

And here's an interesting comparison. The House report on Katrina (written by Republicans) was titled, A Failure of Initiative. Bush's report is called Lessons Learned. Its not called Lessons Learned Quickly, for there still is no director of FEMA (to replace Michael Brown)--just an acting director.

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