Landrieu raps FEMA for critical GAO report

Special to the Herald-Guide
September 12, 2007 at 1:47 pm  | Mobile Reader | Pring this storyPrint 

By Gerard Shields

WASHINGTON -- The federal government’s “limited progress” in emergency preparedness and response since the hurricanes two years ago is “alarming and disappointing,” U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu said Thursday.

The Louisiana Democrat made the assessment after receiving the findings by the U.S. Government Accountability Office. The 320-page report reviewing the U.S. Department of Homeland Security was the subject of a Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee hearing.

Landrieu, chairwoman of the committee’s disaster recovery subcommittee, noted the department failed to reach 18 of 24 benchmarks in emergency preparedness and response.

The conclusions show that the Bush administration has lacked urgency in improving disaster response since hurricanes Katrina and Rita, Landrieu said.

“It’s been apparent that there hasn’t been any real, serious mobilization,” Landrieu said.

Paul Schneider, undersecretary of department management, criticized the report. Testifying before the subcommittee, he said the GAO failed to take into account such improvements as better relations with local and state emergency responders.

The department also has improved its ability to contract with businesses needed in emergency situations, which was a problem in Katrina, Schneider testified.

The report criticized the department for not reaching its goals for a national response plan. The department has been revising its plan, which resulted in the low rating, Schneider said.

“This is like moving the goal posts,” Schneider said. “Because it is under review, GAO noted it as not achieved.”

The report determined the department lacked achievement ensuring the capacity and readiness of disaster response teams, developing plans to strengthen nationwide recovery efforts and creating the capacity to provide timely emergency assistance.

Though the department has performed well in recent national disasters, it has failed to show that it can respond to another catastrophe such as Katrina, the report said.

“It’s very hard to simulate a large-scale disaster,” Schneider told the committee.

Whether the department is failing to meet its emergency response goals or not, it failed to prove to the GAO that it’s on the right track, said committee member and U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo.

“There is not the documentation available to show the general public that this couldn’t happen again,” McCaskill said.

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