February 2, 2006
Investigators Criticize Response to Hurricane
By ERIC LIPTON
WASHINGTON, Feb. 1 — No one from the federal government was clearly in charge of the response to Hurricane Katrina, Congressional investigators said Wednesday, and in the absence of clear leadership the general federal approach was "to wait for affected states to request assistance."
In a preliminary report, the Government Accountability Office, the nonpartisan investigative arm of Congress, criticized Michael Chertoff, the homeland security secretary, for waiting until Tuesday, the day after the storm hit, to designate Hurricane Katrina an "incident of national significance," a status that more clearly put his department in charge.
"Government entities did not act decisively or quickly enough to determine the catastrophic nature of the incident," the report said. "In the absence of timely and decisive action and clear leadership responsibility and accountability, there were multiple chains of command."
The findings were immediately criticized by the Department of Homeland Security. The department's press secretary, Russ Knocke, called them "premature and unprofessional."
Mr. Knocke acknowledged, as the department had before, "that Katrina revealed problems in national response capabilities," but he said President Bush's emergency declaration the weekend before the storm clearly put the department and its Federal Emergency Management Agency in charge.
Separately Wednesday, Mayor C. Ray Nagin of New Orleans told a Senate committee investigating the storm that a conflict over who was in charge during the days after it hit severely hurt the response effort.
"There was an incredible dance going on between the federal government and the state government on who had final authority," Mr. Nagin said, referring to a dispute between the Bush administration and Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco over who should control troops sent to the region. "And it was impeding, in my humble opinion, the recovery efforts, and it was very frustrating."
Mr. Nagin also said that perhaps 150 New Orleans police officers would be let go after an investigation into officers who abandoned their posts after the storm hit. It remains unclear, he told the committee, if the city will be ready for the 2006 hurricane season.
"Today we're not ready," Mr. Nagin said, adding that the Army Corps of Engineers was working to at least restore the levee system to its previous strength by June, when the hurricane season begins.
"If the Corps of Engineers does what they claim they will do — and it appears as though they will — the core of the city will be pretty well protected for the next hurricane season," he said.