GAO report slams Bush, Chertoff for Katrina lack of preparation, slow response

Published 2 February 2006

Michael Brown was the public face of the federal government’s failures before and during Katrina; new GAO report says President Bush and Secretary Chertoff should share more of the blame

In what is described as a stinging assessment of the federal government’s performance before and during Hurricane Katrina, a preliminary report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) asserts that the White House and DHS secretary Michael Chertoff failed to act decisively enough when the hurricane struck. No clear chain of command was in place when the massive storm hit the Gulf of Mexico coast on 29 August, GAO investigators said. They said that much of the blame belongs to President George Bush who, in the face of a growing amount of information and many urgent warnings about the coming storm and its dire consequences, had not designated any particular official to coordinate federal decision making. In the immediate aftermath of Katrina, Bush argued that no one could have anticipated the hurricane and its consequences, but faced with evidence to the contrary, accepted responsibility for the government’s halting response. For the most part, the public face of the federal government’s failures has been that of the hapless Michael Brown, who was forced to resign as director of FEMA. “That’s up to the president of the United States,” GAO comptroller general David Walker told reporters after being asked whether Chertoff should have been the lead official during the emergency. “It could have been Secretary Chertoff” or someone on the White House staff, Walker added. “That’s up to the president.”

The report also singled out Chertoff for several failures, chief among them: Chertoff on 30 August, a day after the storm hit, did authorize additional federal assistance to the Gulf States, but he did not specifically classify the storm as a catastrophic disaster, which would have triggered a faster response. “As a result, the federal response generally was to wait for the affected states to request assistance,” the report found.

-read more in this AP report