RESPONSIBILITY FOR DEATH OF NEW ORLEANS
Subject: FEMA, New Orleans delta flood control projects, Bush ‘actions’: a
CHRONOLOGY…. Here’s a timeline that outlines the fate of both FEMA and
flood control projects in New Orleans under the Bush administration. Read
it and weep:
January 2001: Bush appoints Joe Allbaugh, a crony from Texas, as head of
FEMA. Allbaugh has no previous experience in disaster management.
April 2001: Budget Director Mitch Daniels announces the Bush
administration’s goal of privatizing much of FEMA’s work. In May, Allbaugh
confirms that FEMA will be downsized: “Many are concerned that federal
disaster assistance may have evolved into both an oversized entitlement
program….” he said. “Expectations of when the federal government should be
involved and the degree of involvement may have ballooned beyond what is an
2001: FEMA designates a major hurricane hitting New Orleans as one of
three “likeliest, most catastrophic disasters facing this country.”
December 2002: After less than two years at FEMA, Allbaugh announces he
leaving to start up a consulting firm that advises companies seeking to do
business in Iraq. He is succeeded by his deputy, Michael Brown, who, like
Allbaugh, has no previous experience in disaster management.
March 2003: FEMA is downgraded from a cabinet level position and folded
into the Department of Homeland Security. Its mission is refocused on
fighting acts of terrorism.
2003: Under its new organization chart within DHS, FEMA’s preparation
planning functions are reassigned to a new Office of Preparedness and
Response. FEMA will henceforth focus only on response and recovery.
Summer 2004: FEMA denies Louisiana’s pre-disaster mitigation funding
requests. Says Jefferson Parish flood zone manager Tom Rodrigue: “You would
think we would get maximum consideration….This is what the grant program
called for. We were more than qualified for it.”
June 2004: The Army Corps of Engineers budget for levee construction in
New Orleans is slashed. Jefferson Parish emergency management chiefs Walter
Maestri comments: “It appears that the money has been moved in the
budget to handle homeland security and the war in Iraq, and I suppose that’s
the price we pay.”
June 2005: Funding for the New Orleans district of the U.S. Army Corps
Engineers is cut by a record $71.2 million. One of the hardest-hit areas is
the Southeast Louisiana Urban Flood Control Project, which was created after
the May 1995 flood to improve drainage in Jefferson, Orleans and St. Tammany
August 2005: While New Orleans is undergoing a slow motion catastrophe,
Bush mugs for the cameras, cuts a cake for John McCain, plays the guitar for
Mark Wills, delivers an address about V-J day, and continues with his
vacation. When he finally gets around to acknowledging the scope of the
unfolding disaster, he delivers only a photo op on Air Force One and a flat,
defensive, laundry list speech in the Rose Garden.
A crony with no relevant experience was installed as head of FEMA.
Mitigation budgets for New Orleans were slashed even though it was known to
one of the top three risks in the country. FEMA was deliberately downsized
part of the Bush administration’s conservative agenda to reduce the role of
government. After DHS was created, FEMA’s preparation and planning
were taken away.
Actions have consequences. No one could predict that a hurricane the
of Katrina would hit this year, but the slow federal response when it did
happen was no accident. It was the result of four years of deliberate
Republican policy and budget choices that favor ideology and partisan
at the expense of operational competence. It’s the Bush administration in a
Professor of Communication
Department of Communication
Stanford, California USA 94305-2050