George W. Bush made a third "Message: I care" mission to the Gulf Coast Monday, and along the way he continued to suggest that the problems with the response to Hurricane Katrina were the fault of either the news media or the complicated relationships among federal, state and local government.
Perhaps the president should read this morning's Wall Street Journal. The Journal has reviewed internal documents and e-mail messages from FEMA and other government agencies, and, in unusually blunt language for a news story, it says that they show "the extent to which the federal government bungled its response to the hurricane." And it's not just Michael Brown, the Journal says. "The documents highlight serious deficiencies in the Department of Homeland Security's National Response Plan, a post-Sept. 11 playbook on how to deal with catastrophic events."
Among the paper's discoveries:
- The Department of Homeland Security didn't call in federal environmental health specialists until this Sunday -- 12 days after the Occupational Safety and Health Administration said its crews were ready to move in. "Even now, " the Journal says, "with mounting evidence of environmental problems, the deployment is being held up by continuing interagency wrangling, according to officials at the National Institutes of Health, which also is involved in the effort."
- FEMA didn't ask the Department of Transportation to help it find buses to evacuate the Superdome until Aug. 31, and even then it asked for only 455 buses to evacuate more than 20,000 people.
- When officials at the National Institutes for Health tried to reach out to FEMA to provide help, they were unable to get through to the agency because its e-mail server apparently couldn't handle the traffic it was getting.
The Journal says officials within the Department of Homeland Security are beginning to acknowledge that the department's National Response Plan didn't exactly work. Lee Holcomb, the department's chief technology officer, said last week: "We at the department are not well prepared, and unfortunately, recent history has shown that that's the case."