THE BLOG

Louisiana's Landrieu Calls for Resignation of FEMA Chief of Staff

03/29/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Fat Tuesday 2009 has faded into Lent.

Now, the ghosts of hurricanes past and the specters of hurricanes future are blowing through New Orleans as hearings and investigations reveal massive foul-ups in the Federal Emergency Management Act (FEMA) offices in New Orleans.


In a press conference today Senator Mary Landrieu, D-La. called for the resignation of Doug Whitmer, chief of the staff of the Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA) Louisiana Transitional Recovery Office in New Orleans. Her comments followed a CBS Evening News report yesterday that detailed ongoing investigation into alleged misconduct, including nepotism, sexual harassment and discrimination. CBS reported that Mr. Whitmer had more than 30 complaints filed against him by New Orleans office employees.

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Image: Senator Mary Landrieu

Could this finally be the end of Laissez les bon temps rouler for FEMA?

This is not a partisan issue, as even freshman Rep. Joseph Cao (R.-La.) says there have been allegations of sexual harassment, cronyism, nepotism and other ethics violations in the FEMA office, and his office is exploring possible corruption.

Senator Landrieu said:

"It was very disturbing to see the CBS story about the dysfunction at the New Orleans FEMA recovery office. The people in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama are shocked to hear that the toxic environment created by the office's management has slowed our recovery. Beyond any doubt, it would be appropriate for Doug Whitmer to step down, and I am calling for his resignation.

There was not one, not a dozen, but 30 complaints against one employee. I believe Secretary Janet Napolitano will do a complete review of FEMA leadership from top to bottom to fire those employees that do not want to help - those that are incapable, incompetent and not doing their job.

We have seen examples of extraordinary waste, fraud and abuse in contractors hired by the government. In this case, it is actually the management of our FEMA office in New Orleans. The clean-up process should begin with the resignation of Doug Whitmer."

Landrieu also revealed the results of a nine-month investigation by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Disaster Recovery Subcommittee, which she chairs, that examines the federal housing response following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita and the devastating levee breaks that followed.

"Far From Home: Deficiencies in Federal Disaster Housing Assistance After Hurricanes Katrina and Rita and Recommendations for Improvement," resulted from three hearings, a review of more than 100,000 pages of documents, more than 70 meetings with government officials and non-government experts involved in housing response, interviews with 18 current and former Executive Branch officials responsible for housing, Landrieu's office said.

The nearly 300-page report examines the Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA) lack of planning and poor implementation of housing assistance programs, and concludes with nearly 10 pages of recommendations for reform. It also discusses decisions made by the White House, the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, FEMA, and other officials that bungled the housing response, resulting in a dependence on trailers.

Landrieu has always been against "throwing money at disasters," and used that rationale to vote against the Wall Street bailout in 2008.

Landrieu has taken a lot of heat since Hurricane Katrina, much of which was generated by Karl Rove who had a game plan in place to praise Governor Hailey Barbour of Mississippi while blaming Democrats in Louisiana, including Landrieu and Governor Kathleen Blanco.

Since then, Landrieu has fought for the creation of an 8/29 commission, patterned after the 9/11commission, to search for answers regarding government malfeasance during and after Katrina.

In July of 2008, Landrieu criticized FEMA for not identifying any alternative to trailers for housing homeless evacuees from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita and the federal levee failures that followed. Hurricane Katrina made landfall three years ago, on August 29, 2005.

In September 2008, Landrieu called for two additional hearings regarding Hurricanes Ike and Gustav, which caused more damage and flooding than Hurricane Rita.

The four-year anniversary of Katrina approaches in August.

On Monday, 29 August 2005, Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast like a tsunami, and 80% of New Orleans was left under water.

Life in New Orleans has not returned to pre-storm "normality," despite billions of federal dollars that never seem to reach the ground.

Katrina killed more than 1,600 people by official counts, but the numbers are probably higher. 200,000 homes were destroyed and 1 million people were forced to move on or could be part of the incomplete death counts.