Friday, December 23, 2005

A White House inquiry into the Hurricane Katrina catastrophe has found that key post-September 11 changes to the way the country deals with large-scale emergencies failed to function properly or even impeded the federal response.

According to White House PowerPoint slides shown at a briefing for lawmakers last week, “The National Response Plan did not function as planned.”

The plan, formally in effect for 12 months, provides rules for allocating roles and responsibilities during a domestic emergency.

The plan also specifies how federal agencies are to coordinate with state and local governments and the private sector, and when Washington can step in to assume control of the response.

But according to the briefing slides, this “bureaucratic process delayed the federal response.”

Under the heading, “Problems with military,” one section of the briefing detailed how “the National Response Plan’s structure prevented best use of … Department of Defense assets.”

“This structure is not sufficient for a catastrophic event,” the section concluded.

Another part of the briefing, headed “Problems with emergency communications,” stated there was a “lack of comprehensive national strategy and plans to unite communications plans, architectures and standards.”

A part called “Problems with training and exercises” said that “federal, state and local entities were neither properly trained nor exercised” owing to a “focus on terrorism rather than all hazards,” and there was “no true National Exercise Program.”

Members of the House select committee on Katrina were briefed by deputy homeland security adviser Ken Rapuano. It covered most of the initial findings of the inquiry, which was ordered by President Bush in the wake of the nation’s flawed response to the storm.

In a letter to the select committee’s chairman, Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, Virginia Republican, House Democrats Rep. Charlie Melancon of Louisiana and Rep. Gene Taylor of Mississippi, said the White House inquiry uncovered “a massive failure in virtually all aspects of the federal response.”

They added that the briefing left crucial questions about the White House’s response unanswered, and renewed their request for a subpoena to obtain copies of e-mails and other documents from senior White House officials, including Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr.

Mr. Davis has said that a subpoena — which would likely be fought by the White House long past the Feb. 15 expiration of the committee’s mandate — would serve no purpose but to embarrass the president.

“The president doesn’t have a BlackBerry,” David Marin, chief of staff for the select committee, told UPI. “Andy Card’s e-mails are like the president’s e-mails … there are serious and legitimate constitutional questions about that.”

Mr. Marin said the White House had provided more than 10,000 pages of documents to the inquiry. “We are working with them,” he said, adding that the inquiry was still seeking documents from there and other federal agencies.

Mr. Taylor and Mr. Melancon provide in their letter transcriptions by congressional staff of more than 60 White House PowerPoint slides from the briefing. Mr. Marin said the Democrats’ account of the White House presentation was accurate, though he added “I wouldn’t have written it that way.”

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino told UPI she could not comment on the accuracy of the Democrats’ account, but added, “The president has said he was not satisfied with the response and has taken responsibility for that.

“The president ordered this lessons-learned review, and it is moving forward,” she said. “We will learn the lessons of Katrina and apply the recommendations of the inquiry” to improve the nation’s response to future disasters.

• Brandon Thurner contributed to this article.

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