Senate panel may meet next week on Katrina response
Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., said government officials at all levels share blame for "inadequate" preparedness and response.
The top two senators on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee said Tuesday they plan to hold as early as next week the first public hearing on the government response to Hurricane Katrina.
Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chairwoman Susan Collins, R-Maine, and ranking member Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., said government officials at all levels share the blame for "inadequate" preparedness and response. They have told committee staff to begin investigating the response efforts by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Some lawmakers have called for FEMA to be removed from the Homeland Security Department, but Collins and Lieberman do not support that move.
"I start with the assumption in favor of FEMA staying in [the department]," Lieberman said. FEMA and Homeland Security officials are slated Wednesday to brief the committee and other senators.
Collins and Lieberman deflected questions about assigning blame to federal officials, specifically Emergency Preparedness and Response Undersecretary Michael Brown, who with Homeland Security Secretary Chertoff oversees FEMA.
"We need to take a careful look at all the roles of officials," Collins said.
She added the panel's investigation might lead to an independent commission similar to the 9/11 Commission. Lieberman said the investigation would also review Congress' role in creating the department and spending levels for FEMA and other agencies.
"We can't be defensive about anything," he said.
Congress placed FEMA within the department after an independent commission argued that the agency should be trained to respond to both terrorist attacks and emergency situations. Chertoff floated a plan in July to make the agency a stand-alone entity within the department. It would report directly to the secretary and focus solely on response efforts while creating a preparedness division.
On the House side, the Homeland Security Committee is likely to hold investigative hearings as well, but a committee aide said the schedule has not been determined. The Transportation and Infrastructure Committee also has jurisdiction over FEMA. A House GOP leadership aide said Majority Leader DeLay has asked House chairmen to propose ideas for a legislative package that could come to the floor as early as this week. Rep. Mark Foley, R-Fla., plans to offer legislation to remove FEMA from the Homeland Security Department.