- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 17, 2006

GULFPORT (AP) — Federal programs and funds to help the Gulf Coast recover from Hurricane Katrina do not go far enough to help, said lawmakers touring the battered region yesterday.

“The tools we have in our toolbox are not effective,” said Sen. Mary L. Landrieu, Louisiana Democrat, on a flight to Gulfport, Miss., where blue-tarped roofs dotted the city’s houses. She was with a delegation of senators who also planned to tour disaster sites in the New Orleans area. “We need a new tool.”

Though the federal government has set aside nearly $70 billion for emergency relief and long-term recovery plans, Mrs. Landrieu said, massive reforms at the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which distributes disaster relief, and the Army Corps of Engineers, which oversees the New Orleans levees that were breached by the storm’s surge, also are necessary. She called on Congress to approve a federally aided regional redevelopment program such as the one proposed by Rep. Richard H. Baker, Louisiana Republican.

At a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing, Donald Powell, the federal official coordinating government plans to rebuild the Gulf Coast, said he has limited authority to spur the region’s long-term recovery. He said he relies on “the power of persuasion” to enact progress.

“Would it be easier to do your job if you had more specific authority over the allocation of resources and personnel?” asked Sen. Susan Collins, Maine Republican, who chaired the hearing.

“At times, yes, quite frankly,” Mr. Powell responded. But, he added, “to date the cooperation is extraordinary.”

Several senators said they were troubled by Mr. Powell’s limitations. Mr. Powell, the former Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. chairman who was tapped in November for the recovery post, is tasked with dealing with plans by Congress, state and local governments, and private businesses to rebuild the region.

More than a half-dozen senators visited the region to examine what more Congress needs to do.

Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast on Aug. 29.

“The devastation is so widespread that a sustained federal commitment is going to be necessary,” Mrs. Collins said in an earlier interview. “I think Congress realizes that, but there’s also a growing concern about whether the money is well-spent.”

Congress has approved $67 billion for the Gulf Coast, and President Bush has called for an additional $1.5 billion to strengthen New Orleans levees. But Mrs. Collins said hard-hit areas — including Gulfport and St. Bernard Parish in Louisiana — need more federal resources and attention.

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