Bureaucracy, Budget Cuts Said to Contribute to Slow Response
In a post-9/11 era, some say, the government let preparedness for natural disasters take a backseat to terrorism.
FEMA was an independent agency, answering directly to the president, until it was folded into the Department of Homeland Security two years ago.
However, the latest government figures show that 75 cents out of every $1 spent on emergency preparedness goes to anti-terrorism programs. Well before Katrina, FEMA insiders were sounding the alarm.
"All of us were just shaking our heads and saying, 'This isn't going to be enough, and the director has to know this isn't going to be enough.' But nothing more seemed to be happening," said Leo Bosner, president of the FEMA Headquarters Employees Union.
Bosner has been with FEMA since it began 26 years ago. He says the agency has been systematically dismantled since it became part of the massive Department of Homeland Security.
"One of the big differences I see," said Bosner, "besides taking away our staff and our budget and our training, is that Homeland Security now, in my view, slows down the process."
The union warned Congress in a detailed letter about FEMA's decline a year ago. State emergency managers also warned Capitol Hill and Homeland Security just weeks ago that DHS was too focused on one thing -- terrorism.
"We've had almost zero support for a natural disaster and an all-hazards approach," said Eric Holdeman, director of the King County Office of Emergency Management in Washington State. "It's been terrorism only."
The Department of Homeland Security insists FEMA has been enhanced by being part of a large department with vast resources, but critics say that was not evident in the response to this disaster.