Florida Gov. Jeb Bush delivered a stern message to Congress on Wednesday: State and local officials, not the federal government or the U.S. military, should have the primary responsibility for handling natural disasters.
President Bush and other top officials have suggested that the military could take over disaster response in some cases.
But Gov. Bush, along with Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano, told the House Homeland Security Committee that despite many failures at all levels of government during Hurricane Katrina, an increased federal role was not the solution, the Miami Herald reports...
Joint Task Force-Katrina has been shut down and Lt. Gen. Russel Honore has returned to his previous assignment as commander of the 1st Army.
[Paul McHale, the assistant secretary of defense for homeland defense] denied that President Bush ever proposed to Gov. Kathleen Blanco of Louisiana or Gov. Haley Barbour of Mississippi that Honore take charge of all military forces in those states, including the National Guard. Instead, Bush proposed that Honore be "dual hatted," McHale said putting Honore in direct charge of the federal troops while also having him command the National Guard troops under the direction of the governors.
Both governors resisted that approach. Honore ended up commanding only the federal troops, while the adjutant generals of Louisiana and Mississippi retained command of National Guard forces under the governor's control. McHale said this arrangement worked well.
President Bush yesterday sought to federalize hurricane-relief efforts, removing governors from the decision-making process.
"It wouldn't be necessary to get a request from the governor or take other action," White House press secretary Scott McClellan said yesterday.
"This would be," he added, "more of an automatic trigger."
Mr. McClellan was referring to a new, direct line of authority that would allow the president to place the Pentagon in charge of responding to natural disasters, terrorist attacks and outbreaks of disease.
"It may require change of law," Mr. Bush said yesterday. "It's very important for us as we look at the lessons of Katrina to think about other scenarios that might require a well-planned, significant federal response -- right off the bat -- to provide stability."
Our homeland security president is just trying to keep you safe, citizen.
But stabilizing a crisis might require federal troops to arrest looters and perform other law-enforcement duties, which would violate the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878. The law was passed in the wake of the Civil War and Reconstruction to prevent the use of federal troops from policing elections in former Confederate states.
The White House wants Congress to consider amending Posse Comitatus in order to grant the Pentagon greater powers.
Unfortunately, the only wise voice in the article comes from a most unlikely source. According to an ACLU spokeshole:
"Our strict separation between military and civilian power is one of the things that separates us from Latin America, for example... Changing that would put us on a huge slippery slope."
Also unfortunately, Bush appears to think of himself as El Commandante. Perhaps one day soon calls for impeachment will come from both sides of the aisle.
Investor's Business Daily says:
...Calls for reform of America's disaster-response system are inevitable and proper after a tragedy on the scale of Katrina. But this is no time to act in haste or to just do more of the same and expand the federal role even further. Not only might this increase a false sense of security at the state and local levels, but it also would push federal agencies into work - such as street-level law enforcement - they are simply not meant to do...
Always keep a watchful eye out for those "some" people:
...National plans developed after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks rest on the notion that police, fire and other emergency groups are best positioned to serve as first responders. Federal agencies are supposed to function as backup to state and local ones, and military forces are meant to play a largely supporting role to civilian authorities.
But Katrina showed what can happen when the foundation of this organizational structure is quickly overwhelmed and disintegrates, according to government officials and independent analysts...
[Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld] said the government would likely address again the question of "lead responsibility" for the Defense Department in disaster response. He noted that the issue was critical not only in responding to a natural catastrophe but also to a terrorist attack, because reliance on local authorities has been the basis of emergency planning in both cases.
Some homeland defense specialists have argued since Katrina struck that national plans must be revised to provide for a bigger and faster federalized effort, particularly in large-scale disasters.
"Only the federal government can mobilize a national response to catastrophic disasters," said James Carafano of the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank. "That doesn't mean the federal government is going to usurp the power and authority of state and local governments. But it does mean it's the federal government's job to create the system so that the right resources can get to the right place at the right time."
There is no guarantee that a greater federal role would improve response. Both the Pentagon and the Federal Emergency Management Agency have been widely faulted for not grasping quickly enough the scope of Katrina's damage and not committing sufficient people, supplies and equipment early on.
Historically, practical as well as legal considerations have favored relying on leadership at the grass-roots level.
"The police and fire departments and local emergency-service people are, by definition, the first ones on the scene," said H.K. Park, a former defense official who worked on homeland security issues during the Clinton administration. "And they have the advantage of knowing their communities.
"There's also a legal dimension," he added, "involving states' rights versus federal rights."
Further, military forces remain constrained from a domestic law enforcement role by the 1878 Posse Comitatus Act. Though the Pentagon has committed more than 8,000 active-duty Army and Marine troops and about 10,000 sailors, it has made it clear that these forces will not perform police functions.
National Guard troops, now numbering more than 46,000, constitute a far larger share of the military presence in the disaster area. They bring two main advantages. First, they possess medical, engineering, communication and logistical skills required in relief work. Second, Guard units, when operating under the command of state governors, are not limited by Posse Comitatus.
Any move to assign greater responsibility to the Pentagon for domestic emergency management is likely to face resistance, particularly since the armed forces are already strained by the conflict in Iraq. Commanders remain sensitive to the notion of U.S. troops becoming an occupying force in their own country...