It Ought to be Criminal


Herbert Freeman Jr brought suit against the US government for the wrongful death of his mother Ethel Mayo Freeman. Mr. Freeman’s mother died while they had waited in vain outside the Convention Center in New Orleans. Her body was left in her wheelchair outside the center. Freeman’s lawsuit against the federal government included Michael Chertoff, Michael Brown and Donald Rumsfeld. A federal judge has dismissed the suit

But Judge Zainey, in the recent ruling, said the government has protection from such lawsuits.

“This court is very sympathetic to the plaintiffs for the loss of
their loved ones, however, this court is prohibited from changing the
laws that Congress has enacted,” Zainey wrote. “As such, the court
lacks the authority to award money damages for the claims in which the
plaintiffs are not legally entitled.”

The lawsuit assailed the National Response Plan. This is the plan developed by the Department of Homeland Security that delineates how the federal goverment will respond to national incidents such as a terrorist attack or natural disaster. Hurricane Katrina exposed numerous problems with the plan. As the Bush administration admitted in their February 2006 review of Lessons Learned from Katrina, the plan was “put to the test and came up short.” That’s putting it mildly.

The administration ordered Chertoff to review and revise the plan yet more than a year later the revision of the National Response Plan has not occured. From the Department of Homeland Security on April 11,2007…

While we are committed to producing a revised NRP in a timely manner,
we also want the plan to be thorough and accurate. Therefore, we have decided to delay the release of the first draft of the NRP so that
these issues can be resolved.

I don’t know if the problem is a lack of urgency or the task at hand is a fool’s errand by the nature of the plan. The NRP is suppose to be a comprehensive plan for all agencies responding to all incidents be it natural or man-made. It is a 600 page eye bleeding beheamoth to read. I wonder if the wisdom of the very premise of the plan has been questioned. Can it really do all or should it be broken out into several distinct plans? But I doubt the administration would question or admit such given their highly touted plan was one of DHS’s “highest priorities.”

If there isn’t an inherent problem then we are back to a lack of urgency given the threats and given what we saw of the national response to Katrina. I think a case of negligence ought to be made–that 20 months after Katrina the administration still has not produced a revised NRP–if not in a court of law then in the court of public opinion. But who is paying attention?

7 thoughts on “It Ought to be Criminal

  1. It’s probably the lack of accountability that’s created the lack of urgency. I wonder what can be done to correct that?
    So many scandals, so little time…

  2. Holy cow, did you read the comments after that article? When did people become so judgmental and heartless?
    The judge was probably correct, at least technically; the government does have “sovereign immunity” unless Congress passes a specific law allowing people to sue, and in such cases the law is applied very strictly.
    There has to be a way to hold the people who screwed up with the recovery from Katrina responsible.

  3. Nora…yeah I saw them. At least later some more commented who are more informed and have compassion.

  4. I once had to right an oil spill response plan for a section of the Columbia River about 90 miles long (from Portland upriver, where the regular plan doesn’t extend). I had to get it approved by two state environmental agencies (OR & WA), the cooperative spill coordinator (a quasi-state agency), their law firm and the tugboat company that would carry out the cleanup if our ship had a spill.
    The plan had to include response scenarios for everything from a little lube oil to a breach of the main fuel tank, and had to cover everything from booming off the spill to finding and rehabilitating affected wildlife.
    Just little old me managed to draw this thing up and get it through all these gatekeepers in about 5 months. How many employees does the DHS have? 185,000+???
    Killing gov’t by neglect, just like NOLA…

  5. i think they are waiting for the next disaster/hurricane to test the resonses to make sure they are on the right track.
    hey L.A., you better hope the big one comes after 09′.

  6. Gawd, write not right. I can be a moron, but usually not of the Bush variety. Damn me for not proofreading.

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