Chertoff: “We need to re-engineer FEMA’

Department of Homeland Security secretary Michael Chertoff told a House committee Wednesday that the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s response to Hurricane Katrina was “not without flaws” and that he was prepared to “re-engineer FEMA’ to respond better to future disasters.

You can read Chertoff’s prepared remarks, as well as Associated Press and New York Times coverage, but I do want to draw your attention to a few high points:

At one point, Rep. Cynthia A. McKinney, D-Ga., asked why Chertoff shouldn’t be charged with negligent homicide for his department’s response to the storm. Rep. Henry Bonilla, R-Texas, quickly criticized her comment as “over the top” and “not constructive.” McKinney apparently has a history of that sort of thing.

“In Katrina, FEMA faced challenges in having full situational awareness of where the needs were greatest, getting supplies into affected areas, and tracking shipments of supplies to ensure that they reached the people who need them,” he said. As I’ve said numerous times, the challenge was compounded by FEMA’s need for control, as it turned away and misdirected rescue workers and supplies at many points.

“FEMA’s system for moving supplies into a disaster area is not adequate for catastrophic events. Many parts of it are antiquated and inefficient. We must more effectively partner with the public and private sectors and tap into their expertise to overhaul our logistics system within FEMA,” he said. I also covered this in some depth as well.

“We also need to ensure that FEMA has mature, solid contracting and procurement systems in place before a disaster — and that those systems include a special focus on procurement integrity,” he said. Because those no-bid contracts just aren’t going to cut it.

Finally, “Currently, FEMA has a very capable and well respected Acting Director in David Paulison. But FEMA must work to replenish its ranks at the senior level with experienced staff. In the coming weeks we will be working to draw talented and qualified individuals to these important positions.” As long as they have actual emergency management experience, then this will be an improvement. But if you populate the ranks with more Bush cronies, who can’t even run a horse show, then we’re going to have more disastrous disaster response.