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Archive for Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Administration fends off criticism of disaster response

February 14, 2006

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— The Bush administration on Monday pushed back hard against Katrina-response criticism leveled by ex-disaster agency chief Michael Brown and congressional investigators.

"I reject outright the suggestion that President Bush was anything less than fully involved," said White House homeland security adviser Frances Fragos Townsend.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff "unequivocally and strongly" rejected suggestions that his agency was preoccupied with terror threats at the expense of preparing for natural disasters.

Both spoke at a conference in suburban Alexandria, Va.

Both took swipes at Brown, who resigned in September as head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

"There is no place for a lone ranger in emergency management," said Chertoff, whose Department of Homeland Security is FEMA's parent agency.

Brown testified before a Senate committee last week that he issued repeated warnings to the White House and DHS the day the hurricane struck, Aug. 29, that levees had failed and New Orleans was seriously flooding.

He suggested that the White House and DHS had dragged their feet.

On Monday, Brown defended his performance.

"For Secretary Chertoff to claim that I failed to keep him informed belies the numerous telephone calls and e-mails between me and him prior to, during and after landfall" of the storm, Brown said in an e-mail.

While both Chertoff and Townsend acknowledged that the federal response left much to be desired, both suggested federal officials had been unfairly criticized.

The White House welcomes congressional inquiries into Katrina and the aftermath, and will cooperate with them, Townsend said.

"But let's be clear about the facts," she said. "As you know, President Bush was highly engaged in the preparation and response effort, beginning when Katrina was a tropical storm off the coast of Florida."

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