While the President Pats Himself on the Back...

It's no secret that the Bush Administration values politics and press opportunities over policy. But the dichotomy between the White House media campaign marking the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and the harsh reality Gulf Coast residents have been facing these past 12 months is unconscionable. President Bush has devoted more time and preparation to this public relations blitz than to helping the people of the Gulf Coast.

While the President pats himself on the back and touts his Administration's appalling performance, thousands of families are still waiting for FEMA trailers. The incompetence, mishandling, and shear opportunistic greed that has occurred under the President's watch has been stunning - with $2 billion of the $19 billion spent by FEMA having been wasted on fraud and abuse. But even as families continue to wait for temporary housing, the locks on as many as 118,000 trailers used by Gulf Coast hurricane victims have to be replaced because they could be opened by multiple keys. Tests have also revealed that 94 percent of FEMA trailers tested have hazardous levels of formaldehyde gas, a respiratory irritant and carcinogen. When it comes to the health, security and protection of the American people, negligence and failure have no place.

House Democrats have been examining many of the Administration's failures affecting our Gulf Coast citizens. As everyone who lives there and has volunteered or visited already knows, in order to rate the Administration's performance, there needs to be a grade lower than "F." Last week, House Democrats formed a Waste, Fraud and Abuse Truth Squad, chaired by Congressmen Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Dennis Cardoza (D-CA). They will conduct oversight of the Bush Administration's handling of taxpayer dollars, giving the Golden Drain Award to those who fail to provide meaningful oversight or hold the Administration accountable despite documented instances of waste, fraud and abuse.

Last week, the Truth Squad released a detailed report highlighting the financial mishandling and corruption that has marred the recovery process, dedicating the first Golden Drain Award to the President's Hurricane Katrina contract process. You can read the full report here and you may be interested in some of the other reports House Democrats have issued recently on Katrina:

Housing - Democratic Members of the House Financial Services Committee, led by Senior Democratic Member Barney Frank (D-MA), released a report detailing the Bush Administration's housing failures in the year since Hurricanes Katrina and Rita seriously damaged the Gulf Coast region. This report demonstrates the Bush Administration's failed response to the housing needs caused by Katrina, which includes the legendary failures of FEMA, the indifference of HUD (the federal agency responsible for housing policy) to the crisis, woefully inadequate requests for housing reconstruction funds, and opposition to numerous Congressional efforts to provide affordable rental housing for working families. The conclusion is inescapable: the Bush Administration's response to the housing crisis spawned by Hurricane Katrina has been an abject failure. Read more >>

Education - One year after Hurricane Katrina devastated the greater New Orleans area, local schools and colleges still have not received the leadership and resources they need from the federal government to truly recover, according to a new report released by Congressman George Miller (D-CA), the senior Democrat on the House Education and the Workforce Committee. Read more >>

Small Business - Nearly an entire year after Katrina first touched down in the Gulf Coast, small business owners continue to struggle. A report released by Senior Democratic Member Nydia Velazquez (D-NY) and Democrats on the House Small Business Committee found that 80 percent of the loans that were approved have still not been put in the hands of Gulf Coast small business owners. In addition, the evaluation also reported that a year later the Bush Administration has failed to take adequate steps to address the myriad of issues which ultimately led to a failed response last year - raising serious concern for hurricane victims this year. Read more >>

Homeland Security - A new report issued by the Democratic Members on the Homeland Security Committee, led by Congressman Bennie Thompson (D-MS), finds that the nation is not much more prepared to effectively protect our communities and respond to catastrophic emergencies. The report, "One Year Later: Katrina's Waste," further develops several significant contracting questions raised late last week by Democratic colleagues on the Government Reform Committee. In addition, the report urges Congress to address the institutional failures and poor emergency financial controls that continue to leave America vulnerable. Read more >>

Federal Government Response - Senate Democratic Leader Reid and I released "Broken Promises: The Republican Response to Katrina," detailing the failed response in the almost one year since Hurricanes Katrina and Rita struck the Gulf Coast. The hurricanes showed the American people that even so long after 9/11, the government is still not prepared to protect them. The report makes clear the disastrous effects incompetence and mismanagement continue to have on Gulf Coast residents. As the Bush Administration seeks to trumpet its "accomplishments" in the year since Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, this report makes clear how much work remains to be done. Read more >>

These reports should serve as a reminder to President Bush that a photo op on the South Lawn of the White House is not going to help the tens of thousands of survivors who are still waiting for housing aid, for their schools and hospitals to re-open, for electricity to come back on in their homes and businesses, and for safe drinking water. The President promised a plan for the region, but all there is to show for it are 10,000 empty, unused trailers in an airfield in Arkansas. I will be traveling to the Gulf Coast today, as will many House Democrats, not to smile or pretend we're doing all we can, but to listen firsthand to residents about what Congress needs to do. As survivors are rebuilding their lives, House Democrats will work to rebuild trust and faith that the federal government is truly working for the people of the Gulf Coast region.

Americans deserve more than no bid contracts, bureaucratic inefficiencies and a too little, too late PR campaign. One year later, the Gulf Coast continues to need the financial, health care, education, housing and small business support that they deserve to turn devastated neighborhoods into thriving communities. And we still need an independent commission, modeled after the 9/11 Commission, to find out what exactly went wrong, why it went wrong, and how to fix it.

I can even give a hint about where the biggest problem is. Start at the top.