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House Report Cites Failures on Katrina Response

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff testifies before a Senate panel about his department's response to Hurricane Katrina.
Chip Somodevilla
Getty Images
Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff testifies before a Senate panel about his department's response to Hurricane Katrina.

House Republican investigators today released a scathing 520-page report listing hundreds of mistakes and misjudgments in the government's response to Hurricane Katrina. The report, called "A Failure of Initiative," follows a five-month inquiry, and places blame at all levels of government. Several Democrats who participated in the inquiry have concurred with the main results.

Investigators say lapses at all levels of government cost lives and prolonged suffering. And, they say, Americans are justifiably concerned about the government's ability to protect the nation four years after the Sept. 11 attacks. Lawmakers found widespread communications breakdowns and confusion over who was in charge.

"It remains difficult to understand how government could respond so ineffectively to a disaster that was anticipated for years and for which specific dire warnings had been issued for days," said Rep. Tom Davis (R-VA), who led the inquiry.

The investigators faulted Louisiana and New Orleans officials for not making adequate plans to evacuate or shelter tens of thousands of residents, even though it was widely known the city's levees could break.

While the committee said it did not intend to assign blame, the report was especially critical of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff for his response to the storm. The panel said he executed his responsibilities "late, ineffectively or not at all." But Chertoff vehemently defended his actions in an appearance before the Senate Homeland Security Committee, which is conduction its own investigation.

"The idea that this department and this administration and the president were somehow detached from Katrina is simply not correct," Chertoff said.

Chertoff said his agency plans to do a lot differently in the future -- including better coordination of information and tracking of emergency supplies -- two major problems identified in the House report.

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Pam Fessler is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk, where she covers poverty, philanthropy, and voting issues.