It has been more than 100 days since Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast, and the city of New Orleans is at least trying to get back on its feet. But as usual in Washington, officials are having a hard time getting beyond the blame game: State and local officials, testifying on the Hill this week, blamed the feds. Federal officials, in a closed-door briefing with House members, did take part of the blame but also said they were hampered by state and local officials.
At one point in the meeting, Democratic Rep. Gene Taylor of Mississippi got so upset he left the sessiononly to return later with a tent, so he could show the administration officials what people in his state were living in these days.
In truth, there is plenty of blame to spread around. As a White House official admitted last week, "a unified national homeland security planning structure does not exist." In other words, the state and federal agencies have to learn how to coordinate with one anotherand they're working on it.
But what was perhaps most shocking this week was the news, which came out in Republican Sen. Susan Collins's Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearings, of the cavalier local attitude in watching the levees. The Collins committee had documents showing that no one with any professional expertise was monitoring the levees on a regular basis.
In fact, those watching the levees were totally unqualifiedaside from their political connections. In addition, Collins and her committee discovered that there were "no formal records" of levee inspection and maintenance even kept in New Orleans. Instead, there were only handwritten logs showing that the lawn was mowed regularly; nothing indicates that the engineering was monitored regularly.
That's enough to get the fingers pointing at local and state officials, to be sure. But as the Katrina investigations continue, expect the fingers to point in all directions. Right now, House Democrats want to subpoena White House E-mails so they can figure out whereand how high upto place the blame.
Republicans aren't willing to go along with that, at least not yet. But it's early.