President Obama deployed two Cabinet secretaries to the Gulf Coast region Thursday to signal that his administration will push stalled rebuilding efforts, and in a stark change to the backslapping that residents usually witness from federal officials, neither was shy about frustration with red tape.
Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan told residents that he is “personally disturbed” and even “angry” by the sluggish pace of rebuilding after Hurricane Katrina.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said the new administration has freed hundreds of millions of dollars for affordable housing, moving assistance and the rebuilding of schools, fire departments and police stations destroyed during the 2005 storm.
The ruined Gulf Coast became a symbol of President George W. Bush’s time in office and his limited-government philosophy. Mr. Obama dispatched his top lieutenants early to try to prove that his approach to government can do better.
“We are getting a view of what has not yet happened and what needs to happen. We took these jobs to get something done and to move issues forward, and the Gulf Coast and this area is top on that agenda,” Ms. Napolitano said.
Although Mr. Donovan acknowledged the sight of the freshly painted homes surrounding him during a press conference in the once-leveled Upper 9th Ward, he said that “far too little progress” had been made on housing in New Orleans.
“To be honest, we have been disturbed by what we have seen and what we have not seen in terms of progress,” he said.
Recovery efforts also were a hot topic in Washington on Thursday, with actor Brad Pitt visiting Capitol Hill to tout his “Make It Right” sustainable green-homes project in the Lower 9th Ward.
Mr. Pitt scored a private meeting with the president and talked with energy czar Carol M. Browner, a White House source said.
Ms. Napolitano said that since she took the Homeland Security post, she is constantly asking why so much bureaucracy, wavering decisions and miscommunication are preventing people from returning to their homes.
She announced a senior-level review to “identify impediments to the decision-making process” so the government can move money quickly to the region.
“This will not be the last time we are here,” she said. “This will not be the last time I ask, ‘Why?’ … We’re going to get this done.”
Asked to identify some of the specific bottlenecks, Ms. Napolitano avoided mentioning Mr. Bush but said there has been “some confusion” about the legal requirements needed for Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to give out money.
Also, “there’s been a lot of turnover in personnel. So, oftentimes, people will be dealing with three, four, five different people at FEMA on the same issue and sometimes getting different advice,” she said.View Entire Story
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