08/08/2008 05:12 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Louisiana's Landrieu Dogs FEMA and Protects Fourth Estate


United States Senator Mary L. Landrieu, D-La., commented on Senate Republicans blocking consideration of a law to protect journalists from imprisonment for keeping confidential sources' identities. The procedural vote of 51 to 43 fell nine votes shy of the 60 required to move forward the Free Flow of Information Act, S. 2035.

"I am very disappointed that 43 of my colleagues chose to put partisan games ahead of protecting our free press' ability to serve its important watchdog role in our society," said Senator Landrieu, a cosponsor of the legislation.

"The decision to employ un-attributed sources is not one that journalists should take lightly, but it is often the only path to exposing important information to the cleansing light of public scrutiny. This has certainly been the case in reporting the federal bureaucracy's failed response to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita and the flooding that followed, as well as the flawed decisions behind wholly inadequate federal levee construction. As such, the right to draw upon such sources, free of judicial intimidation, is essential to providing proper checks on our government," Landrieu said in a press release.

Having worked in the post-Katrina environment in Louisiana, and most recently in New Orleans investigating water seepage near the repaired 17th Street Canal levee and floodwall which failed catastrophically during Hurricane Katrina, it should be noted that Landrieu's office has been accessible and open to independent media.

Providing Access

When we told her office that direct access to the leaks had been reinforced with a double padlock--installed since our initial visit and report two days prior, Landrieu's office said that the Landrieu would be in contact with the New Orleans Army Corps of Engineers office to make sure they were addressing our questions. The Corps spokesman, Randall Cephus, met with us at the location within three hours and provided access for additional photography and analysis.

A cynic would say that this is an election year and that the Senator wants good press relations. However the Senator willingly fields the tough questions about her support for off-shore drilling and the pluses and minuses involved for protective wetlands and Louisiana's economy.

Landrieu has taken a lot of heat since 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. The mainstream fell for it, hook, line, and satellite uplink.

Consider what is happening today in special hearings, conducted by Landrieu with little fanfare from the national media.

FEMA's Ghost Entity: Landrieu Questions Why Seven Pages are Blank

Top officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and Housing and Urban Development (HUD) offered a report that deferred most of the responsibility for post-disaster housing and plans to a ghost entity.

"FEMA was instructed by a law Congress passed and was signed by the President to make and implement a plan for housing disaster victims," Landrieu said today at a hearing of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Disaster Recovery Subcommittee. The committee has been conducting an investigation into FEMA's failed housing strategy in response to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. "But instead, FEMA has just passed the responsibilities under its jurisdiction off to an unformed body. I'm trying to figure out why these pages are blank."

Under questioning from Landrieu about the seven blank pages in the Disaster Housing Strategy that were called "Under Development," Deputy Administrator Harvey E. Johnson responded, "The strategy is in fact a strategy. It's a precursor to a plan."

"Precursor to a plan," sounds an awful lot like the "dog ate my homework," but Landrieu ain't about to let this dog hunt.

Landrieu jumped all over the fact that FEMA has yet to identify 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.

Landrieu also reminded the committee that the strategy was delivered to Congress a year late and asked when the final "plan" would be complete. Administrator Johnson responded that it would be finished by the fall but refused to be more specific, according to information supplied by Landrieu's office.

The Post Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act (PKEMRA), which was signed into law in 2006, required FEMA to provide to Congress a complete National Disaster Housing Strategy by July, 1, 2007.

The FEMA "strategy" is a year late and seven pages short.

"My Subcommittee will continue to press FEMA on its inadequate housing strategy to ensure the next time a catastrophic disaster strikes, the agency provides safe housing quickly and effectively," Landrieu said. "The investigation into FEMA's failed housing strategy will continue so that FEMA's mistakes are revealed to the public, and the agency is reformed to prevent a repeat performance."

So, in the middle of summer, when most candidates are on the rubber chicken circuit and campaigning, Landrieu is doing her job and representing the people of Louisiana.

Along the way she took time to vote and comment on the efforts to stop the press from doing its job.

The Fourth Estate owes Landrieu a nod on this one.

As a journalist who works regularly in Africa, I take press freedoms pretty seriously.