Says it all

The Times-Picayune posts an excellent summary of the tragedy-turned-scandal of inadequate response to Katrina:

His frequent public pronouncements notwithstanding, Brown clearly saw himself in a supporting role in the disaster drama. He issued a directive to FEMA employees Monday not to respond to hurricane-ravaged areas “without being requested and lawfully dispatched by state and local authorities.”

The directive revealed an allegiance to bureaucratic processes that proved maddening to some as FEMA demanded written requests for food, troops and fuel. A Florida congressman said the agency turned down an offer for flat-bottomed air boats because it didn’t want to sign a contract with the supplier.

Save for the Coast Guard’s dramatic air rescues, a detached, legalistic approach set the tone for the federal government’s response. Brown is a lawyer as is his boss, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff. And the founding document of U.S. disaster planning reads like a legal brief.

The National Response Plan is chock full of legalese, case law and statutes, but it doesn’t clearly spell out something as basic as who is responsible for getting food and water to flood victims. The 426-page plan was supposed to have remedied the command-and-control problems that plagued the response to the terrorist attacks in New York City. But it’s hardly a model of clarity. Its authors thought it necessary to attach an 11-page glossary of “key terms” and a three-page explanation of acronyms. On the seminal question – Who’s in charge? – the Federal Response Plan is murky.

It says incidents are “typically” managed at the lowest levels of government. On the same page, however, it says that “Incidents of National Significance” put the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security in charge. The next page seems to reverse course again. It says that “Incidents of National Significance,” emergencies declared by the president, puts the federal government in a supporting role to protect state sovereignty. That is, unless the president decides he wants to be in charge, in which case the governor is secondary. Under those circumstances, the plan says, the president will consult with the governor, “if practicable.”

: And here’s the Washington Post on the red tape that continues to hamper relief efforts for evacuees.