Assessing the State of Affairs in New Orleans

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This is a partial transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume," September 5, 2005, that has been edited for clarity.

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BRIT HUME, HOST: Among those who have been critical of the Bush administration’s response to Katrina is Republican Congressman Bobby Jindal, whose district includes part of New Orleans (search). He joins me now from Baton Rouge.

Congressman, let me get, first of all, your assessment of how things seem to be going now.

REP. BOBBY JINDAL (R), LOUISIANA: Well, a couple of things. I think things have improved dramatically once the military has gotten here. And my criticism is really all around. It’s not just the federal. It’s the federal, the state, the entire response.

Too often, red tape is getting in the way. We’ve got still cities that don’t — we’ve got parishes that don’t have tetanus shots. We’ve got in the northern part of my district — we had a call for the private sector to deliver bottled water because they weren’t getting supplies. For too long, it seems like the bureaucracy is trying to follow the same rulebook, instead of saying, "Let’s just get it done and ask for forgiveness after the fact."

HUME: What bureaucracy specifically are you talking about?

JINDAL: Well, for example, I had a mayor in my district that called here to both federal and state officials trying to get food delivered and was told — he was on hold for 45 minutes and was finally told they were going to have to write a memo describing his plight.

HUME: Who was he talking to?

JINDAL: In that particular case, he called FEMA (search) officials. And then I had a sheriff that needed additional help, was told that he would have to write an e-mail. And again, now, here’s a sheriff whose parish has been flooded, doesn’t have electric power.

But I’m not here to point fingers at one side or the other. I think the overall response has been too bureaucratic. I think it is getting better. I think now the focus has to be not pointing fingers and figuring out blame, but saying, "How do we make it better? How do we cut through the red tape? How do we make sure there’s somebody in charge who’s accountable, who’s got the authority to get things done, who doesn’t worry that it’s not in the rule book, but understands there are people without medicine, without food, without water?"

What’s most important to those people is not whether it’s FEMA, or the state, federal or local, what’s most important is that they get fed, they get rescued.

HUME: Earlier, a question was put to General Honore (search), who is directing the military side of this response, based on your comments about red tape and bureaucracy. And his answer as we played it earlier in this program was, to sum it up, that that was B.S., that everyone understood his direction was doing everything they could, and there was a massive, and he indicated, effective effort that is now, he said, virtually cleared the city of New Orleans of the people who remain there.

How do you respond to his response to you?

JINDAL: I am glad he’s mad. I hope FEMA’s reporting to him. I hope the corps is reporting to him. I hope everybody’s reporting to him.

Quite frankly, things have gotten better with the military’s presence. I’ve got nothing but praise of what he’s been in charge of, what he’s been able to do.

But there are a lot of unmet needs. As of last night, there were first-responders, search and rescuers that have been neck-deep water, no tetanus shots, in Plaquemines Parish (search). As of last night, no bottled water, no baby formula, and no food in the northern part of Washington Parish (search).

As of Sunday night, there were still severe needs, not just in New Orleans, but in the surrounding areas. Not to take anything away from their successes in recent days, but there are dramatic needs on the ground.

I hope he’s angry. I hope he’s in charge. And I do hope that FEMA is, indeed, reporting to him.

HUME: Let me ask you what your understanding is about — we know, from what FEMA had told us, that a great deal of material and, indeed, personnel, counting some, what, over 7,000 Guardsmen, who were at the ready about the time the storm hit.

Then there seemed to be this long delay before they, the personnel and the material, began to arrive on the streets, principally of New Orleans. What, in your judgment, was responsible for that? I gather we had an inability to get the stuff in. But why?

JINDAL: Well, clearly, there was no communication. We had to physically go to the parishes to find out people’s needs. But even again, or just examples, we had a private helicopter that wanted to go in and rescue people. They couldn’t get anybody to give them permission to go.

I went in and talked to FEMA. They said, "Go to the FAA (search)." They said, "Go to the military." We couldn’t get anybody to approve it. So there have been continued communications bottlenecks that we still don’t interoperability, when it comes to the communication hardware.

Again, the frustration of my constituents, people on the ground, is that nobody seems willing to just cut through the red tape and say, "Here is the food. Here’s the need. Just deliver it." Don’t get permission. Don’t wait for that.

HUME: One last question. It seems manifestly clear that New Orleans has been very close to this before and that everyone has known that there were tens, perhaps 100,000 people, who were not easily able to get out of that city.

What explains the failure of local officials to successfully evacuate that city or at least have a plan to do so?

JINDAL: Well, again, I don’t think — I think there’s blame to go everywhere, not only to evacuate, but if we’re going to tell people to go to the Superdome (search), again, I think FEMA could have had resources there. There could have been food, materials, security. It doesn’t make sense.

HUME: Why wasn’t — why wasn’t — why is it FEMA’s responsibility to equip the Superdome? Isn’t that the local relief station?

JINDAL: Well, again, I think there is enough blame to go everywhere. It’s not just FEMA. I think that’s where a lot of people are frustrated today. The focus now is, though, to get that food, that water, that medicine.

If it’s here, let’s get it distributed. And the situation on the ground has improved. And I do want to say, there have been some heroic first-responders, sheriff’s deputies, Coast Guard (search) officials, others that have been rescuing people nonstop.

They don’t know where their own families are in some cases. They don’t know where their property is. They have not taken a break. They’ve not taken a shower. They’re risking their own safety.

So I know you’ve heard a lot of my frustration. I don’t want to leave the impression that everything is bad. There are people doing an amazing job. I do think the situation is getting better, but my frustration is, we should have learned, after 9/11, this should never have happened. If there is another disaster in America, hopefully we will get it better.

Like you said, we’ve done tabletop exercises. We’ve done simulations.

HUME: All right. I gotcha, Congressman.

JINDAL: Everybody involved should have known.

HUME: Time presses upon us. Thank you for your time. It’s good to have you.

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