GAO testimony: Feds clearly failed with Katrina response

Federal authorities furnished inadequate leadership, advance planning and logistics systems in response to Hurricane Katrina, congressional investigators reported today.

The most critical shortcoming was a lack of clear leadership and lines of authority, which created a disjointed federal response, David M. Walker, comptroller general at the Government Accountability Office, which is an investigative agency of Congress, testified today. Walker spoke to a select bipartisan committee investigating the response to Katrina, chaired by Rep. Thomas Davis, R-Va.

"There were multiple chains of command, a myriad of approaches and processes for requesting and providing assistance, and confusion about who should be advised of requests and what resources would be provided within specific time frames,"
Walker said in testimony characterized as preliminary observations.

Greater capabilities also are needed in maintaining effective logistics systems, restoring emergency communications, advance planning and damage assessment, Walker said.

"It appeared that logistics systems for critical resources were often totally overwhelmed by Hurricane Katrina, with critical resources apparently not available, properly distributed or provided in a timely manner," Walker said.

Restoring emergency communications and providing backup communications after a catastrophe is critical, Walker said. However, he did not offer details on which agencies or entities should have those responsibilities.

Federal advance planning for disasters needs to be more robust and should explicitly define and leverage military capabilities, Walker said.

"Our initial review of the National Response Plan base plan and its supporting catastrophic provisions as well as lessons based on Hurricane Katrina suggest the need for those documents to be supported and supplemented by more details and robust implementation plans," Walker said.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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