Monday, January 29, 2007

Senate Committee Holds Hearings in New Orleans

Three members of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee were in New Orleans today for hearings on the government's incompetent and indefensible Katrina recovery efforts. Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu (D) was joined by Committee Chairman Joe Liebermann (I) and presidential candidate Barak Obama (D).

Obama criticized the President for not saying anything about the Gulf Coast in his State of the Union address, but I'm more impressed with Liebermann's comments. "A year and a half after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, it’s time to redouble our efforts to win the new Battle for New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. Congress has provided over $110 billion dollars to the region since Katrina and Rita….Yet for all of the funding Congress approved, the reality seems to be that the money is not arriving fast enough or is sitting idle while the people of New Orleans and the Gulf states continue to suffer and struggle."

The press release continues: "Lieberman specifically cited the “painfully slow” distribution of Louisiana’s $7.5 billion in Community Development Block Grants through the state of Louisiana’s 'Road Home Program,' designed to help individual homeowners rebuild. Some 101,657 homeowners have applied for assistance under the program but only 258 homeowners have received funding. “How can this be?” Lieberman asked. “We must find a way to streamline this process to eliminate this extraordinary disconnect.”

As wonderful as Liebermann's comments may be, and as spot-on as his remarks about Road Home are, I am dissapointed in the Committee's witness list. They heard from Mayor Nagin, the federal Katrina czar Donald Powell, a FEMA Deputy Director, a Louisiana Recovery Authority member, and other federal officials. These people are the problem! These are the people in charge of the incompetent response! As far as I can tell, nothing too constructive was said, though I've yet to read the actual transcript. As you can imagine, the typical fingerpointing continued, with Mayor Nagin blaming the Iraq war, racism and class, and a lack of federal will for the slow progress. Powell said the President is committed to rebuilding the area, but like Nagin, did not take responsibility for the mess.

Since no one is willing to take responsibility for their mistakes, I hope various journalists, activists, and non-profit leaders will be allowed to testify. Maybe then the feds will get a clear picture of what's happening down there. However the lawmakers proceed, I hope their efforts will yield some fruition. I'm upset with Liebermann for a number of reasons right now, but he does have a reputation for integrity and ethics. He's probably a good person to head an investigation of waste, corruption, and inefficiency.

Since I'm giving Obama this mention, I should point out that former Sen. John Edwards (D) announced his own presidential campaign in New Orleans last month. I'll post, hopefully tomorrow, about candidate Sen. Chris Dodd's comments on the city.

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