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Wednesday, January 25, 2006
More on Investigating the Federal Response to Katrina
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 6:15 am

Via the NYT: White House Declines to Provide Storm Papers

The Bush administration, citing the confidentiality of executive branch communications, said Tuesday that it did not plan to turn over certain documents about Hurricane Katrina or make senior White House officials available for sworn testimony before two Congressional committees investigating the storm response.

[…]

The White House’s stance on storm-related documents, along with slow or incomplete responses by other agencies, threatens to undermine efforts to identify what went wrong, Democrats on the committees said Tuesday.

[…]

According to Mr. Lieberman, Michael D. Brown, the former director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, cited such a restriction on Monday, as agency lawyers had advised him not to say whether he had spoken to President Bush or Vice President Dick Cheney or to comment on the substance of any conversations with any other high-level White House officials.

While there is no doubt that there is a significant incentive for Democrats involved in the investigation of the response to Katrina to score points on the topic of Republican incompetence in an election year, it is also clear that much of the administration’s response has more of a CYA flavor than a principled stance on protecting executive prerogatives.

As I have stated numerous times in the past, the bureaucratic side of the response to the post-Katrina disaster in New Orleans is a perfect opportunity to see how the post-911 executive branch, DHS in specific, responds to a cataclysmic disaster. They clearly did an exceptionally poor job mobilizing the resources needed to deal with the human needs in the region.

What if al Qaeda had blown up those levees, instead of having them breached by a storm? Since there would have been no warning, and not even partial evacuation of the city, the effect on the local population would have been even worse. And it would have been the federal government’s job to respond to such a scenario.

Further, it is doubly frustrating to know that they have war-gamed a scenario like Katrina (the Hurricane Pam simulation) and yet it seems that none of what should have been learned by that process helped in the event of the actual emergency.

Since this was a set of policy responses that did, by definition, include high level White House officials, I am afraid having key witnesses advised not to say to whom they spoke, or to deny congressional access to documents that would tell us what went wrong is far less of a principled stance on the confidentiality of the executive branch and far more about wishing to keep from public eyes information that would prove embarrassing to those involved in the response to Katrina.

Will the Democrats make political hay out such information? Yes, they will. Such are the fortunes on politics in a transparent, democratic society-when mistakes are made by government, regardless of party, the public has a right to know what mistakes were made, and by whom. From there it is up to the public to determine how bad those mistakes were, and whether or not, via the ballot box, someone needs to be taken to task.

And really, from a pure political POV, whatever embarrassing information exists, the sooner the White House divulges it, the better of the GOP will be in regards to the electorate. Better to be embarrassed in February of an election year than October.

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