Napolitano orders immediate review of Katrina recovery

Published 30 January 2009

FEMA was stung by Katrina, and new DHS chief wants a review of that event and the response to it

DHS Janet Napolitano today issued another action directive to “require specific department offices and components to work with state and local partners to review and assess current plans to respond to significant medical emergencies and address Hurricane Katrina’s lingering impacts.” The statement says: “More than three years have passed since Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast. Many individuals and communities have moved forward to recover and rebuild. However, there are still individuals, neighborhoods, and institutions, where the recovery process is stalled because of disagreements about damages and indecision about next steps. We now have the opportunity to take a fresh look at rebuilding the communities impacted by Katrina so they will be safer and more economically and socially resistant to future disasters.”

Areas for review include:

  • Public Assistance Projects. What will it take to resolve major public assistance projects under dispute with the city of New Orleans and the state of Louisiana such as Charity Hospital, New Orleans Water and Sewer Board, St. Bernard Wastewater Plant, university projects at Louisiana State, Tulane and Southern universities and other major projects? Are there legislative or regulatory requirements that are impeding speedy resolution of these projects? What is the schedule to resolve the backlog of appeals on public assistance projects and what can be done to expedite these appeals?
  • Hazard Mitigation. FEMA has made available over $1.5 billion in funding for hazard mitigation projects in Louisiana. How is this funding being used to make communities more disaster-resilient?
  • Co-Location. Historically, the state and FEMA co-located their recovery efforts. However, the state of Louisiana and FEMA are operating out of different locales. What is the value to co-locating operations and what would be required of FEMA to co-locate with the state?
  • Housing. The Department of Housing and Urban Development has played an important role in issuing temporary housing for Katrina victims. How has the process worked and do they have the capacity for future disasters? How can we best address those individuals that continue to reside in FEMA-supported temporary housing?

An oral report is due 10 February, with a final report due 24 February.

Napolitano still has not appointed a FEMA administrator. The Times-Picayune’s Bruce Alpert writes that sources say her short list includes retired Army Lt. General Russel Honore, Bruce Baughman, a 24-year veteran of FEMA who left the agency in 2003, and Mark Merritt, a former FEMA official who now leads a consulting firm.