Katrina report lists 125 fixes

Expert questions whether Congress will approve funds to implement the fixes

“The Federal Response to Hurricane Katrina: Lessons Learned”

Related Links

A new White House report, “The Federal Response to Hurricane Katrina: Lessons Learned,” documents widespread deficiencies in the federal government’s planning and management response to the natural disaster. The sheer number of its recommendations — 125 in all —reveals the magnitude of the remedy for the government’s ineffectiveness in responding to the disastrous hurricane.

An appendix to the document, titled “What Went Right,” offers evidence that pockets within the federal government and individual federal employees performed effectively and even heroically. But the report, based on an investigation by Frances Townsend, assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism, concludes that the federal government has not done enough to plan, train and equip its employees to respond to catastrophes.

The report shows that the process for coordinating and assigning relief tasks outlined in the 2005 National Response Plan proved to be too bureaucratic. Many frustrated federal officials simply acted on their authority rather than wait for assignments from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Their actions created further confusion and duplication.

Townsend’s investigators found that key decision-makers at all levels were unfamiliar with the National Response Plan, the document that assigns accountability and dictates actions during a national incident. Investigators also identified weak regional planning and coordination as major reasons for the federal government’s inadequate response to Katrina. For instance, FEMA programs that once operated out of the FEMA regions, such as the state and local liaison program and all grant programs, are now located in the Homeland Security Department’s headquarters in Washington, D.C., which has weakened local coordination efforts.

Alan Webber, a senior analyst at Forrester Research who read the White House report, said no command structure linked DHS to New Orleans. “A lot of good things happened down there, but I would not give credit to the people who manage from above,” Webber said. “I would give credit to the people who did the job on the ground and just used their initiative.”

Buried in the 228-page report are narratives that describe some agencies’ initiative and effectiveness in responding to Katrina. For example, the Defense Department’s National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency began collecting information on airports, hospitals, police stations, emergency operations centers, highways and schools well in advance of Katrina’s landfall. Merging imagery with other information, NGA employees created hundreds of intelligence products for federal, state and local emergency response teams. NGA’s imagery also helped relief workers locate and recover oil platforms.

Among its 125 recommendations, the report calls for creating a national operations center and establishing a national information and knowledge management system to provide a common operating picture for federal incident managers. DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff attributed his absent leadership during the Katrina catastrophe to a lack of real-time situational awareness of the facts of the disaster and the relief efforts.

The 2015 Federal 100

Meet 100 women and men who are doing great things in federal IT.

Featured

  • Shutterstock image (by venimo): e-learning concept image, digital content and online webinar icons.

    Can MOOCs make the grade for federal training?

    Massive open online courses can offer specialized IT instruction on a flexible schedule and on the cheap. That may not always mesh with government's preference for structure and certification, however.

  • Shutterstock image (by edel): graduation cap and diploma.

    Cybersecurity: 6 schools with the right stuff

    The federal government craves more cybersecurity professionals. These six schools are helping meet that demand.

  • Rick Holgate

    Holgate to depart ATF

    Former ACT president will take a job with Gartner, follow his spouse to Vienna, Austria.

  • Are VA techies slacking off on Yammer?

    A new IG report cites security and productivity concerns associated with employees' use of the popular online collaboration tool.

  • Shutterstock image: digital fingerprint, cyber crime.

    Exclusive: The OPM breach details you haven't seen

    An official timeline of the Office of Personnel Management breach obtained by FCW pinpoints the hackers’ calibrated extraction of data, and the government's step-by-step response.

  • Stephen Warren

    Deputy CIO Warren exits VA

    The onetime acting CIO at Veterans Affairs will be taking over CIO duties at the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency.

  • Shutterstock image: monitoring factors of healthcare.

    DOD awards massive health records contract

    Leidos, Accenture and Cerner pull off an unexpected win of the multi-billion-dollar Defense Healthcare Management System Modernization contract, beating out the presumptive health-records leader.

  • Sweating the OPM data breach -- Illustration by Dragutin Cvijanovic

    Sweating the stolen data

    Millions of background-check records were compromised, OPM now says. Here's the jaw-dropping range of personal data that was exposed.

  • FCW magazine

    Let's talk about Alliant 2

    The General Services Administration is going to great lengths to gather feedback on its IT services GWAC. Will it make for a better acquisition vehicle?

Reader comments

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above