- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 27, 2006

The White House yesterday rejected calls from Congress to dismantle the Federal Emergency Management Agency, blamed for bureaucratic bungling after Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Gulf Coast last year.

“As we’re headed to this hurricane season, now is not really time to really look at moving organizational boxes,” Frances F. Townsend, homeland security adviser to President Bush, told reporters aboard Air Force One en route to New Orleans.

A Senate panel yesterday recommended that FEMA be replaced by a new agency that would be better able to respond to major disasters. While Ms. Townsend rejected scrapping the federal emergency agency, she agreed that some restructuring could help.

“Yes, there’s a better way to organize it. … We look forward to working with the committee,” she said. “I think we all share the same common goal and that is having a strong, capable FEMA that is better able to serve the American people when they’re in greatest need.”

The president, making his 11th trip to the Gulf Coast yesterday, said his administration is working to ensure that there is not a repeat of the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina.

“We pray that there is no hurricane this coming year, but we’re working together to make sure the response will be as efficient as possible,” Mr. Bush said.

Democrats seized on the Senate panel’s report, hoping to position themselves in the November congressional elections.

“This report confirms in stark terms what the people of Louisiana have known for many months,” said Sen. Mary L. Landrieu of Louisiana. “The handling of Hurricane Katrina by the Department of Homeland Security and FEMA was an organizational nightmare of immense proportions and that tragic administrative bumbling caused untold hardship for the people of Louisiana.”

Sen. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut Democrat, blamed Mr. Bush for the extent of devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina, which left more than 1,500 people dead.

“The White House shares responsibility for the inadequate prelandfall preparations,” he said. “The president did not leave his Texas ranch to return to Washington until two days after landfall, and only then convened his Cabinet as well as a White House task force to oversee federal response efforts.”

But the president said he has learned from Hurricane Katrina and the federal government is ready for the coming hurricane season.

“One of the things that we’re working on is to make sure that we’ve learned the lessons from Katrina — we’ve learned lessons at the federal level and state level and the local level. And we’re now working closely together in preparation of the upcoming hurricane season,” Mr. Bush said.

“All of us in positions of responsibility appreciate those who are working to help us understand how to do our jobs better. And we pray there is no hurricane this coming year, but we are working together to make sure that if there is one the response will be as efficient as possible,” he said.

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