White House Gives Post-Katrina Recommendations

A White House assessment of the sluggish federal response to Hurricane Katrina calls for more clearly defining the military's role during catastrophes, along with more than 100 other recommendations.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne. The White House, today, released its report on the federal response to Hurrican Katrina. The 228-page document details failures in planning and leadership, and calls for changes before the next hurricane season begins in June. Speaking this morning at the White House, President Bush said he wasn't satisfied with the government's response to the storm.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: We will learn from the lessons of the past to better protect the American people. Uh, we have made a strong commitment to people in the Gulf Coast, and we will honor that commitment as well.

MONTAGNE: President Bush speaking earlier today. NPR's Pam Fessler is covering this story, and joins me now. And Pam, what are some of the findings in the report?

PAM FESSLER reporting:

Well, this review, Renee, says what I think a lot of people already knew, that Hurricane Katrina exposed significant flaws in federal, state, and local preparedness, and that emergency plans at all levels of government came up short. What it doesn't do is assign blame. A House report last week found that there was a lack of leadership on the part of the White House and the Homeland Security department that impaired the response, but this report doesn't do that. It looks more at the structures and procedures in place. For example, it says that there are unclear and overlapping responsibilities in the national response plan, and that made it very confusing for people to know who was in charge, and what they were supposed to do.

There was a lack of communication, disorganized distribution of emergency supplies. Evacuation plans fell short, because they didn't take of people who were unable to evacuate on their own.

MONTAGNE: And the White House proposals were ways to fix this?

FESSLER: Well, they have 125 recommendations in all. Some of them are things that the administration would like to do, and have in place before June 1st, which is the start of the next hurricane season. Those include things like improving the coordination by making sure that before a storm hits, there's a federal joint field office set up with a representative of the Defense Department present. That there are better communication systems already deployed in the storm area. They want to improve the way assistance is delivered to victims by streamlining the registration process, making sure they get the aid more quickly. Review evacuation plans that states have in place now, and also, recognizing that might have to be a greater federal role in evacuations. More long-term, they asked, recommend that the Department of Homeland Security and the Defense Department make plans for what the military's role should be in responding to such disasters.

MONTAGNE: And Pam, you've been following this story. How do expect these recommendations to be received?

FESSLER: Well, I think a lot of them are non-controversial, such as improving communications, but the one thing it doesn't do is call for the removal of the Federal Emergency Management Agency from the Department of Homeland Security, which is something a lot of lawmakers think should be done. They think that the agency would more effective that way.

MONTAGNE: Pam, thanks very much. That's NPR's Pam Fessler. And you can read the White House report at our website, npr.org.

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Government Reports Detail Katrina Failures

White House Report: Sluggish Federal Response to Katrina

The White House report is less critical than an earlier congressional report, but the 228-page document does call for the government to make specific changes for the upcoming hurricane season.

The report, released Feb. 23, concluded that inexperienced managers and a lack of planning, discipline and leadership contributed to vast federal failures during the hurricane. It stops short of assessing blame, as the recent congressional report did. The White House also included a 20-page section called, "What Went Right."

U.S. House Report: 'A Failure of Initiative'

In a scathing 520-page report released Feb. 15, House investigators listed hundreds of mistakes and misjudgments in the government's response to Hurricane Katrina. The report, called "A Failure of Initiative," follows a five-month inquiry, and places blame at all levels of government. Several Democrats who participated in the inquiry have concurred with the main results.

Investigators say lapses at all levels of government cost lives and prolonged suffering. And, they say, Americans are justifiably concerned about the government's ability to protect the nation four years after the Sept. 11 attacks. Lawmakers found widespread communications breakdowns and confusion over who was in charge.

GAO Report: Fragmented Government Slowed Katrina Response

Federal officials failed to act quickly or decisively enough in response to Hurricane Katrina, according to the Government Accountability Office's report. The failure to designate a single official to lead the overall federal response made matters worse, said the report, released Feb. 1.

The GAO also said many of the problems that arose were similar to those the agency identified more than a decade ago, after Hurricane Andrew struck South Florida.

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