Independent Panel Must Investigate Government Response to Katrina

Series of reports to focus on accountability in aftermath

Hurricane Katrina left a path of death and destruction in her wake. But the damage from that storm goes far beyond the physical and emotional, threatening even the infrastructure of democracy.

Common Cause is launching a new campaign, Eye on the Gulf, to hold Congress, the Administration, and state and local governments accountable for actions in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The areas we will focus on include contracting, communications and elections.

We start Tuesday by calling on the President and Congress to appoint a nonpartisan commission modeled on the bipartisan 9-11 Commission to investigate government’s response to the disaster caused by Hurricane Katrina. The panel must be independent of Congress, the Executive Branch and of state and local governments. It should be appointed as quickly as possible and include people with both technical expertise and experience in the bureaucracy of emergency preparedness and response. “It is not possible for those who led this demonstrably failed response to conduct a credible investigation,” Common Cause President Chellie Pingree said in the letter. “We need investigators without a political stake in the outcome.”

Click here and here to read the full letter to Congress and the President about the need for the commission.

In the coming weeks we will release a series of reports examining key areas of federal response to this national disaster, including:

Cashing in on Katrina. The monitoring of billions of dollars in federal aid for Hurricane Katrina relief efforts. While rapid reconstruction of areas devastated by Katrina is of paramount importance, it is also vital that contracts be awarded with oversight, that small businesses and local communities participate in the awarding of these contracts, and that the government be accountable for its spending. So far, the government has awarded a number of large reconstruction contracts with little or no competition to the same politically connected companies like Halliburton that won no-bid contracts for reconstruction work in Iraq.

The communications breakdown. During and after Hurricane Katrina, a devastating breakdown in emergency communications made it nearly impossible at times for first responders and government officials in the Gulf Coast to talk to each other. Outrageously, that breakdown was both predictable and preventable. Common Cause will press Congress to take up pending legislation designed to provide emergency first-responders with the radio spectrum, equipment and funding necessary to communicate during a crisis.

Elections in the face of disaster. In Louisiana, local elections that were scheduled to take place in October have been cancelled. What happens to those offices when current officeholders’ terms expire? How do thousands of displaced voters maintain their right to vote on matters of consequence in their hometown? Across the country, what contingencies are in place in the event of disasters that disrupt elections? Whether due to natural disaster or terrorism, our election system must be prepared to deal with such crises.

To read the letters sent to Congress and the president calling on an independent investigation of the government’s response to Katrina, click on the folowing links:

Letter to Congress:{FB3C17E2-CDD1-4DF6-92BE-BD4429893665}/KATRINA_INVESTIGATION_NEEDED_9-19-05.PDF

Letter to President:{FB3C17E2-CDD1-4DF6-92BE-BD4429893665}/KATRINA_INVESTIGATION_NEEDED_PRESIDENT_9-19-05.PDF