White House to issue 125 findings in its own Katrina report | VailDaily.com

White House to issue 125 findings in its own Katrina report

WASHINGTON – A White House assessment of the sluggish federal response to Hurricane Katrina calls for better defining the military’s role during catastrophes, opening the door for the Pentagon to oversee government relief efforts in extreme cases, officials said Wednesday.The “lessons learned” review of 125 recommendations, to be released Thursday, does not call for any resignations, despite recent demands – mostly by Democrats – for Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff to step down. It also recommends keeping the beleaguered Federal Emergency Management Agency under Chertoff’s control, according to a Bush administration official.Though some agencies, like the Coast Guard, successfully rescued tens of thousands of storm victims, “there are other areas where all levels of government fell short – the federal, the state and the local,” White House spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters.”What we want to do is take a close look at what worked and what didn’t work and apply those lessons to the future,” he said.The report, by White House homeland security adviser Frances Fragos Townsend, was expected to be less scathing than a House report issued last week.The House review blamed all levels of government for indifference toward disaster preparations that contributed to deaths and suffering in Katrina’s aftermath. That study, by a Republican-led House committee, also found that earlier involvement by President Bush could have spurred a faster response.Bush, who ordered the White House report, has accepted responsibility for the government’s halting response to the Aug. 29 storm. The hurricane killed 1,300 people and forced hundreds of thousands of Gulf Coast residents to abandon their damaged or destroyed homes.The review offers solutions to only some of the government’s shortfalls, according to a senior administration official familiar with a draft of the 125 recommendations.But the document, which a congressional aide said approaches 200 pages, proposes some sweeping changes to federal response plans. They include better defining the military’s role during response missions – potentially making the Pentagon the lead agency when state and local resources are overwhelmed, two officials said.That would only happen in the worst of catastrophic disasters, such as storms of Katrina’s magnitude and terror attacks, the officials said. Currently, the Homeland Security Department coordinates federal disaster relief missions under a national response plan it issued last year.A second administration official said Chertoff would keep his job under the review despite recent calls – mostly by Democrats – for the security chief’s resignation.That official said FEMA will remain under Chertoff’s control, even though critics have called for the agency to be removed from Homeland Security and answer directly to the president.Both administration officials spoke on condition on anonymity because the report had not yet been released. Bush will host a Cabinet meeting Thursday morning to discuss the review, which will be released shortly afterward.The Senate is finishing its own investigation of the failed response, due next month.In remarks to state emergency managers last week, Townsend promised a critical look at the federal response.”We should not pull any punches in our assessments of what went wrong – and we don’t,” she said.She also said, “It does a disservice to us all when we judge in retrospect the decisions made and actions taken in the midst of a major disaster, without consideration of the fuller context.”Most of the White House recommendations focus on failed management and leadership issues, the official said. In her remarks last week, Townsend highlighted the need for better systems to allow frequent and repetitive communication, faster evacuations and more cooperation between military forces and disaster responders.The review also suggests other structural response changes, the senior administration official said, including relieving FEMA of long-term recovery responsibilities like housing.–On the Net:White House: http://www.whitehouse.gov/Vail, Colorado

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