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Davis might subpoena WH, DHS, HHS, state documents

From this:

The Republican chairman of a House panel investigating the response to Hurricane Katrina threatened Wednesday to issue subpoenas for documents if the White House and other agencies don't provide them by Nov. 18.
Rep. Tom Davis of Virginia made the commitment after a Louisiana Democrat, Charlie Melancon, pointed out the panel still hadn't seen some documents it requested more than a month ago. The original request pertains to the White House, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Health and Human Services and the states of Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi.
Davis said there had been a significant response from the White House, Alabama and Mississippi and that the Department of Homeland Security had assured him it would provide documents within a week.
...The committee made its initial request in late September and set a due date for Oct. 4. Some of those documents have been provided, including a few pertaining to budget issues and e-mails between former Federal Emergency Management Agency chief Michael Brown and Homeland Security headquarters.
However, Melancon said most of the key documents are missing _ including anything involving Homeland Security Michael Chertoff, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and correspondence between federal agencies. Louisiana has indicated it will provide documents but has requested an extension, Melancon's office said.

From a week ago: "House Panel complains administration dragging feet on document request".

House Panel complains administration dragging feet on document request

From Panel Still Waiting for Hurricane Katrina Papers:

The Republican who heads a Congressional panel investigating the federal government's response to Hurricane Katrina complained Wednesday that the Bush administration had failed to turn over documents the panel requested weeks ago.
The official, Representative Thomas M. Davis III of Virginia, chairman of the House Committee on Government Reform, also threatened to issue subpoenas to compel administration officials to release the documents if they did not comply with the committee's request.
"Our time is short for conducting our investigation," Mr. Davis said. "We are not going to be stonewalled here. I will continue to press the administration for full compliance with our requests as soon as possible."
The documents in question are e-mail and other correspondence between officials in the White House and other agencies during the response to the hurricane, as well as agency documents dealing with specific preparations for and responses to Hurricane Katrina. The panel requested the documents on Sept. 30.
A White House spokesman, Trent Duffy, took issue with the suggestion that the administration had been slow to respond to the committee's request. "It's a lot of information," Mr. Duffy said. "White House staff were instructed to collect information, and the White House counsel's office is working with Davis's committee to provide them with the appropriate information..."

Rebuilding czar: FDIC Chairman Donald Powell

Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation Chairman Donald Powell - a "longtime friend and political supporter of President Bush" - has been appointed to lead the Gulf Coast rebuilding effort, aka the Rebuilding Czar:

According to the Department of Homeland Security, as coordinator, Powell will serve as the administration's primary contact with Congress, state and local governments, the private sector and community leaders on mid- and long-term recovery plans. He reportedly will report to President Bush through Chertoff.
Powell also will help direct the spending of federal aid money...

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Chertoff defends Brownie still doing heckuva job

As previously discussed, former FEMA head Michael Brown is still on their payroll. Now, DHS head Michael Chertoff says:

"It's important to allow the new people who have the responsibility ... to have access to the information we need to do better... We don't want to sacrifice the real ability to get a full picture of Mike's experiences; we don't want to sacrifice that ability simply in order to make an image point."

And:

Russ Knocke, the Homeland Security spokesman, said Brown has no decision-making or management responsibilities.

As for himself:

...Brown said Wednesday he was asked to stay on the job another 30 days to help the agency complete its review of the response to Hurricane Katrina, a "completely legitimate thing to do."
Brown, who resigned under fire Sept. 12 after being heavily criticized for the slow reaction to the hurricane, told The Associated Press that he's also reviewing for the agency a large number of Freedom of Information requests dealing with the response.
Asked in a telephone interview if he expects to complete that work by the end of his second 30-day extension, Brown replied, "Absolutely. I'm motivated to wrap it up. I'm ready to move on."

The feds pay retail! Millions of dollars involved

What fool pays retail? The feds! According to the NYT's "Federal Agencies Often Paid Retail for Hurricane Aid".
While it concentrates on what they bought, it also contains the interesting info that just 20 DHS employees had those infamous charge cards with $250,000 limits:

Mr. Orluskie, of the Homeland Security Department, said that far from giving out purchase cards frivolously, FEMA limited them to just 20 employees, who have so far charged about $12 million in hurricane-related expenses.

As for the rest:

...there is a vast quantity of smaller purchases, made by an army of workers dispatched to the storm region, many carrying government credit cards. It was shopping on an epic scale - $66,632.37 for a single sale at a Wal-Mart store in La Place, La.; $129,568.40 spent in 195 trips to Home Depot outlets by workers of the Federal Emergency Management Agency; 3,000 sleeping bags bought from two sporting goods outlets for $60,639.61...

I paid around $200 for a sleeping bag, so that doesn't sound like such a bad price as long as they weren't just blankets with zippers or something.

Auditors will take years to assess the propriety of the spending, and its scale is so great that many purchases are unlikely ever to get close scrutiny. A review of financial records provided by FEMA and four other agencies, however, shows that the government often paid retail prices or more even for items bought in large quantities. At least one transaction appears to have been split up to avoid a ceiling of $250,000 on credit card purchases, a limit already increased a hundredfold for Hurricane Katrina from the usual $2,500.
On their face, the records, detailing $19 million worth of federal government purchase-card spending, reveal no pattern of outlandish spending. But there is often no way to tell whether purchases were necessary or whether the items were ever used. The bulging shopping baskets reflect the rush to meet the needs of desperate victims and the fact that other people's money is easy to spend...

However:

Some eye-catching line items turn out to be understandable when details are known. The flip-flops and underwear were for evacuees, many of whom fled without extra clothing and used public showers for weeks, FEMA says, and Jockey International says it provided the underwear at or under the company's cost. It seems odd that Steve's Christmas Trees, a California company, got nearly $2 million from FEMA for "hurricane relief" - but a call reveals that the company is a well-established supplier of water trucks, portable showers and portable laundry units.

DHS: Katrina not a "catastrophic event"

Your eyes might feel slimy after reading this report, but this bit needs some research:

On August 30, Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff labeled Katrina "an incident of national significance." In doing so, he set into action the National Response Plan (NRP). Secrecy News, published by the Federation of American Scientists, points out that in a little-noticed maneuver, Chertoff did not designate the hurricane as a "catastrophic event," a special sub-category of emergency situation that entails the expedited deployment of emergency response capabilities. On September 8, Chris Strohm of Government Executive Daily Briefing asked if Chertoff had exercised his catastrophic-incident authority in response to Hurricane Katrina. DHS spokesman Russ Knocke told the reporter that "it was too early to make a determination." FEMA officials continued to dodge the question last week. After repeated phone calls, one FEMA official, who refused to give her name, told the Voice that on August 31 the Department of Homeland Security declared Katrina "an incident of national significance." Asked if the storm ever had been declared a catastrophic event, the woman replied, "Homeland Security did not." In another conversation, Barbara Ellis of FEMA public affairs said, "Katrina rose to the level of 'incident of national significance.' " Asked if it was ever declared a catastrophic event, she repeated that the storm was an "incident of national significance."
In short, the government made sure it would not invoke laws setting into motion an expensive federal response. Instead, the feds blamed Blanco for the slipshod handling of the affair, explaining that they were prohibited by law from acting as a first responder.

Someone needs to explain the exact difference between the two designations and give examples of how they impacted the response. And, there's the possibility that under some new rule or other they're the same or can be made to be the same.

Unanswered: Helicopters fired? Flight suspension order?

According to Shots at helicopters shrouded in a 'fog', the official word from the Air Force, Coast Guard, Department of Homeland Security and Louisiana Air National Guard is that they haven't been able to confirm any incidents of shots being fired at helicopters. The same goes for "members of several rescue crews who were told to halt operations".

The storm created so much confusion that government officials cannot even agree on whether they ever issued an order to halt flights or other rescue efforts...
On the morning of Sept. 1, Mike Sonnier was directing rescue helicopters at his company, Acadian Ambulance, when one of his pilots called to say the military had suspended flights after gunfire was reported in the air near the Louisiana Superdome.
[He shut down flights...] Sonnier said that when he checked with the National Guard about two hours later, he was told it was OK to fly. At that point Acadian resumed operations. Even today, it's not clear whether a military order to stop flying was ever actually made.

Then, they include a USCG quote reprinted in "Sep 1: Charity, University hospitals situation" and say this:

...But that initial report proved hard to confirm. Two Coast Guard spokesmen who were asked in recent days about helicopter shootings said there were no incidents of any Coast Guard personnel or vehicles taking fire.

That's a bit at odds with the previous link.

''We don't know of any shots ever fired directly at us,'' said Capt. Bob Mueller, commander of the Guard's New Orleans station. "But there were a number of reports of shots fired in the air. There were two occasions where all helos were directed to land. I believe those orders came from the Superdome. Our flatboats did stand down Sept. 1.''
Lt. Pete Schneider, a spokesman for the National Guard, which was handling Superdome evacuations, said it was a civilian who told guardsmen in the area that shots had been fired. Schneider said flights continued despite the danger...
But a spokesperson for the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees the Federal Emergency Management Agency, contradicted that statement, saying Superdome flights were temporarily suspended because of gunfire.
The confusion affected more than just helicopter crews. Florida Task Force 1 was using boats to reach the stranded but not on Sept. 1.
Because of reports of gunfire, a FEMA support team ordered the Florida task force to stop work for the entire day unless law enforcement protection could be found, task force leader Dave Downey said.
That help never came. Meanwhile, thousands of people were stuck in attics and on roofs of flooded houses in New Orleans.
''We had just had a very successful day before,'' when they rescued 400 people, said Downey, whose crew manned boats. "It definitely slowed down our rescue efforts . . .
...FEMA sent mixed messages in recent days on whether rescue efforts were placed on hold.
''If, on the ground, if they were in middle of a search and they were being shot at, for safety reasons, they may have temporarily put that search on hold,'' said Deborah Wing, a FEMA spokeswoman in Washington.
Later, she said by e-mail that no operations were ever suspended, despite "reports of gunfire.''
Some who were in New Orleans that day described moments of real peril. Tyler Curiel, a cancer doctor at Tulane University Hospital, said a sniper shot at him and his military escorts in the street as they evacuated patients from Tulane and Charity hospitals.
Curiel said the gunman was in a nearby parking deck shooting at Charity's emergency room about noon Sept. 1.
One month later, Downey, of Florida Task Force 1, isn't sure the decision to halt operations was the right one...

Allbaugh: DHS merger hurt FEMA

The article "FEMA troubles no shock to previous chief" reports the thoughts of former head of FEMA Joe Allbaugh:

[He says:] "FEMA has been broken for quite some time..."
The FEMA that he directed did a good job responding to the 9-11 terrorist attacks four years ago, he said. But now it suffers as one of 22 agencies rolled into the new Department of Homeland Security.
"Functions have been moved out of FEMA. Budgets have been cut and used elsewhere," he said. He added that moving FEMA into Homeland Security had added a "couple of layers" of bureaucracy.

The DHS reponds that the move got rid of redundant functions.

...After years of dealing directly with Mr. Bush, the new department structure would add just "further layers" of bureaucracy between him and the president, Mr. Allbaugh said.
"It just didn't make any sense to me," he said...

And:

His business, the Allbaugh Group, represents a pair of large engineering and construction companies - the Halliburton subsidiary KBR and the Shaw Group - that could gain from Katrina work. He said he doesn't lobby for them but rather does special projects and long-term strategic planning. It wouldn't bother him, he said, if there were lifetime lobbying bans for those who served in high government posts.
"It wouldn't hurt me - no skin off my nose or money out of my pocket," he said, "because it's not what I do."

Did DHS know much more than it let on?

Here's an important story awaiting some in-depth investigation (which it probably won't receive, but what the hey).
There's an internal news bureau at the DHS that rewrites wire and newspaper stories for workers there. There's a previous example of this in "A disturbing view from inside FEMA": An odd CNN, FEMA, Blanco loop.
The post "DHS internal news system reveals extensive knowledge of problems" links to several of those news stories, which are stored in the Internet Archives. Avoid the slow beginning and the loony leftiness and concentrate on the links.

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FEMA, DHS looked at different weather forecasts?

This completely unconfirmed post says that FEMA and the DHS might have been looking at different weather forecasts: one from the National Weather Service, and the other from Accuweather. Developing:

The Senate Commerce Committee held hearings this afternoon on Katrina. The House Science Committee will be holding hearing Wednesday morning (9/21). Sen. Ben Nelson (Florida) asked Max Mayfield whether it was true that Secretary Chertoff (the head of homeland security) & Department of Homeland Security (DHS) used Accuweather for hurricane forecasts of Katrina and he confirmed it. The National Infrastructure Command Center in DHS prepared an "overnight summary" for Secretary Chertoff on Katrina that was based on Accuweather hurricane predictions rather than hurricane forecast information from the National Hurricane Center. This dates from when former PA. Governor Ridge was Secretary of homeland security.
What's even most shocking is that the "NOAA Desk" in the DHS Ops Center, staffed by a primary & two backup NWS meteorologists, prepared forecasts for Secretary Chertoff based on the National Hurricane Center; however, it is unsure that this ever made it to the Secretary. To make matters worse & even more confusing, FEMA relies solely on NWS products, which includes those issued by the National Hurricane Center. So FEMA (which only uses NWS) and the DHS (which uses Accuweather) are not even looking at the same forecasts! The NWS NHC's track for Katrina was significantly different & more accurate than Accuweather's. Just recently, Accuweather's track for Ophelia brought it across Florida & into the Gulf. In both cases, Accuweather's forecast was dead wrong. The end result is that the head of homeland security & DHS & FEMA received conflicting forecasts.
Sen. Bill Nelson also asked Max Mayfield about consolidation and downsizing of WFOs and Max Mayfield unequivocally said it was a very bad idea, and that he hopes that it doesn't happen and that the local WFOs are an essential part of NWS. Senator Nelson also trashed Accuweather and, without naming Santorum, blasted those who would try to take NWS off the air and off the internet to help commercial interests.

Here's the hearing site, and here's a video. See also this.
10/19/05 UPDATE: Someone left the following comment on another blog:

Uh - I have video tape of night's news on CNN between 6pm ET and 12am ET from Wed before the storm hit through Wed after the storm hit. Are people saying that AccuWeather or the DHS got this wrong?
They were BEGGING people to leave N.O. and the Gulf area beginning on Wed night. Its right there on the video tape. And yet, the morning after the first PLEA by Chertoff to leave N.O. comes on the GOVERNOR or L.A. telling people to stay put and "hang tight" because there is NO MANDATORY EVACUATION PLAN IN EFFECT.
...No one, NO ONE but those two dimwit twits (mayor and governor) are to blame for all those deaths.

Will investigate and report...

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