09/17/2005: FEMA on the Fly...
FEMA, Slow to the Rescue, Now Stumbles in Aid Effort (NY Times):
”Nearly three weeks after Hurricane Katrina cut its devastating path, FEMA - the same federal agency that botched the rescue mission - is faltering in its effort to aid hundreds of thousands of storm victims, local officials, evacuees and top federal relief officials say. The federal aid hot line mentioned by President Bush in his address to the nation on Thursday cannot handle the flood of calls, leaving thousands of people unable to get through for help, day after day.
Visits to several towns in Louisiana and Mississippi, as well as interviews with dozens of local and federal officials, provide a portrait of a fragmented and dysfunctional system.
The top two federal relief officials in charge of the effort both acknowledged in interviews late this week that they too have listened to the frustrated voices of local officials and citizens alike, and find their complaints valid.
"It is not happening fast enough, effective enough and it is not impacting the people at the bottom as quickly as it should," said Vice Adm. Thad W. Allen, standing along the waterfront in New Orleans on Friday. "I have heard frustrations."
Admiral Allen, who was put in charge of the federal government's emergency operations along the Gulf Coast a week ago Friday, said entrenched bureaucracies hampered attempts to accelerate his top priorities: aid to residents, providing housing and clearing the vast swaths of wreckage from homes and trees damaged by the storm.
Working from Baton Rouge, William Lokey, FEMA's coordinating officer for the three-state region, echoed Admiral Allen's criticisms. "It is not going as fast as I would like, and yes, I do not have the resources I would like," he said on Thursday. "I am going as fast as I can to get them."
The problems clearly stem largely from the sheer enormousness of the disaster. But the lack of investment in emergency preparedness, poor coordination across a sprawling federal bureaucracy and a massive failure of local communication systems - all of which hurt the initial rescue efforts - are now also impeding the recovery.
FEMA, Mr. Lokey said, is an agency with limited federal money that must quickly expand its operational capacity only after a major disaster strikes. It has not won a large chunk of the new federal homeland security dollars, that have been dedicated to terrorism.
"If the billions of dollars that have been spent on chemical, nuclear and biological response, if some of that had come over here, we would have done better," he said. "But after 9/11, the public priority was terrorism."
The Katrina troubles underscore serious questions about the federal government's ability to handle similar disasters in the future…”
This is what happens when you dismantle an effective governmental agency like FEMA (under Clinton) by both funding cuts (those “starve the FED government folks”) and by political cronyism appointing Incompetents to run it - and Then actually NEED it to function.
It’s almost hard to fault the clean-up crew under Vice Adm. Thad W. Allen who have to recreate an entire agency on the fly in the middle of a National Disaster. But we KNOW where the buck stops for this in the first place. Bleh!!!
Karen on 09.17.05 @ 07:53 AM CST