WASHINGTON – Several states ready and willing to send National Guard troops to the rescue in hurricane-ravaged New Orleans (search) didn't get the go-ahead until days after the storm struck — a delay nearly certain to be investigated by Congress.
New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson (search) offered Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco (search) help from his state's National Guard on Sunday, the day before Hurricane Katrina hit Louisiana. Blanco accepted, but paperwork needed to get the troops en route didn't come from Washington until late Thursday.
California troops just began arriving in Louisiana on Friday, three days after flood waters devastated New Orleans and chaos broke out.
In fact, when New Orleans' levees gave way to deadly flooding on Tuesday, Louisiana's National Guard had received help from troops in only three other states: Ohio, which had nine people in Louisiana then; Oklahoma, 89; and Texas, 625, figures provided by the National Guard show.
Maj. Gen. Thomas Cutler, who leads the Michigan National Guard, said he anticipated a call for police units and started preparing them, but couldn't go until states in the hurricane zone asked them to come.
"We could have had people on the road Tuesday," Cutler said. "We have to wait and respond to their need."
The Michigan National Guard was asked for military police by Mississippi late Tuesday and by Louisiana officials late Wednesday. The state sent 182 MPs to Mississippi on Friday and had 242 headed to Louisiana on Saturday.
With many states' Guard units depleted by deployments to Iraq, Katrina's aftermath was almost certain from the beginning to require help from faraway states.
Republicans and Democrats alike in Congress are just beginning to ask why one of the National Guard's most trusted roles — disaster relief — was so uneven, delayed and chaotic this time around.
Sen. Chuck Hagel (search), R-Neb., said the situation has shown major breakdowns in the nation's emergency response capabilities. "There must be some accountability in this process after the crisis is addressed," he said.
Democrat Ben Nelson (search), Nebraska's other senator, said he now questions National Guard leaders' earlier assertions that they had enough resources to respond to natural disasters even with the Iraq war.
"I'm going to ask that question again," Nelson said. "Do we have enough (troops), and if we do, why were they not deployed sooner?"
President Bush was asked that question Friday as he toured the hurricane-ravaged Gulf Coast area and said he disagrees with criticism the military is stretched too thin.
"We've got a job to defend this country in the war on terror, and we've got a job to bring aid and comfort to the people of the Gulf Coast, and we'll do both," he said.
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John Warner (search), R-Va., plans to make oversight of the Defense Department, the National Guard and their assistance his top priority when he returns to Washington next week from an overseas trips, spokesman John Ullyot said Friday.
Bush had the legal authority to order the National Guard to the disaster area himself, as he did after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks . But the troops four years ago were deployed for national security protection, and presidents of both parties traditionally defer to governors to deploy their own National Guardsmen and request help from other states when it comes to natural disasters.
Though slow at the beginning, out-of-state Guard help was markedly increasing by the start of the weekend. As of Friday, nearly half the states had Guard members in Louisiana, boosting the total to at least 5,600 from out of state. Hundreds more were on the way.
Michigan, which was ready to help before the storm began, was sending 500 National Guard troops Friday and Saturday to help with water purification in Mississippi and police duty in New Orleans.
Arizona didn't get a request for military police until Thursday, when it received an urgent message sent to all state National Guards by the National Guard Bureau at the request of Louisiana, said Capt. Paul Aguirre. He said the unit cannot leave Phoenix until Sunday because arriving units must arrive at a pace the receiving end can handle.
Among those headed in were several hundred from Wisconsin, where the governor took the unusual step of declaring a disaster outside his state to activate his Guard.
"This was the first time a governor ever declared a natural disaster in another state and activated to that other state," said Gov. Jim Doyle (search), who issued his order Wednesday. "We were ready to be deployed within 24 hours of that order."
In addition to Guard help, the federal government could have activated, but did not, a major air support plan under a pre-existing contract with airlines. The program, called Civilian Reserve Air Fleet, lets the government quickly put private cargo and passenger planes into service.
The CRAF provision has been activated twice, once for the Persian Gulf War (search) and again for the Iraq war.