Faking the Katrina Inquiry


New York Times

September 27, 2005

As the nation reels from Rita's devastation along the Gulf Coast, any hope for a thorough investigation of government's gross mismanagement of Katrina is quietly ebbing away behind the political levees of Washington. The White House and Republican-controlled Congress, resisting popular support for an independent, nonpartisan commission, remain determined to run self-serving, bogus investigations.

President Bush has designated his domestic security adviser to deliver the supposedly no-holds-barred investigation he promised after his early embarrassment over Katrina. In a similar retreat, Congressional Republican leaders' ballyhooed promise for a special two-house select committee to fathom government's failures has already been scrapped. Democrats are understandably demanding equal membership and subpoena power - if not a 9/11-type independent commission - for such a task. But the House majority refuses to yield its edge in dominating this politically explosive issue. And the Senate goes its own way, advancing some helpful but totally inadequate ideas for post-hurricane oversight by an inspector general and a reconstruction financial officer.

The public should not be misled by the spectacle tomorrow when Michael Brown, the disgraced and departed director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, will most likely be pilloried in an appearance before a Republican-heavy House committee. Scapegoating Mr. Brown is not enough. Lawmakers should be looking at wider mismanagement. The case of David Safavian, the White House's top federal procurement official, comes to mind. He was already enmeshed in the lucrative Gulf Coast rebuilding plans when he had to resign abruptly to face arrest on charges of obstructing justice in a deepening investigation into lobbyist corruption in Washington.

It's obvious that any honest inquiry into how the nation was caught unprepared must list administration cronyism as a topic of investigation as much as Katrina's timeline. Mr. Safavian was a G.O.P. loyalist and veteran lobbyist appointed to run the entire government's purchasing policy, apparently on the basis of patronage influence, not professional credentials.

There is no way to whitewash a hurricane; a government dominated by one party should be disqualified from investigating itself. Just as President Bush repeatedly fought the creation of the 9/11 commission until public pressure forced him to yield, so should the public now demand that the administration and Congress get real about Katrina.