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Report: Squabble held up storm aid

Published June 9, 2006

WASHINGTON - FEMA and Red Cross squabbled over power structures during hurricanes Katrina and Rita, hampering relief to victims, a congressional investigation concludes.

And confusion between the two agencies over what roles they will play in this year's hurricane season was not cleared up as of two weeks ago, the Government Accountability Office said in a report Thursday.

During the two storms, "the two organizations spent time negotiating operating procedures, rather than focusing solely on coordinating mass care services in the early days of the hurricane response effort," the GAO report concluded.

Though both are working to clarify their roles, the agencies had not resolved their differences as of May 24, the report found. "This partnership cannot function efficiently in the aftermath of a disaster without improved working relationships," it said.

The 2006 hurricane season began June 1.

Both the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Red Cross were among front-line responders to Katrina, which hit last Aug. 29, and Rita, which followed on Sept. 24. But the agencies disagreed over who in FEMA's power structure the Red Cross should report to while helping provide housing, food, medical aid and other assistance to victims, the report found.

A FEMA spokesman did not have an immediate response Thursday.

The Homeland Security Department, which oversees FEMA, declined to comment on a draft of its findings except to make some technical clarifications, the report said.

The Red Cross questioned the accuracy of some of the report's findings. But "overall, the Red Cross agrees with the GAO's conclusions that the coordination between FEMA and the Red Cross could be improved for the 2006 hurricane season," said a letter from Red Cross senior counsel Lori Polacheck that was included in the report.

A Red Cross spokeswoman did not immediately return messages seeking response Thursday.

[Last modified June 9, 2006, 06:34:38]

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