Coast Guard Vice Admiral Thad Allen, recently returned to Washington from his posting leading the federal response to Hurricane Katrina, speaks to Time in an interesting interview published today. An excerpt:
Q: Are there any misconceptions that have taken hold about Katrina that you’d like to debunk?
A: Yeah, this is a personal opinion. We need to [consider] what the public perceives FEMA’s role should have been and what statutorily FEMA’s role is. Their protocol for a disaster is that locals go to the states, states go to the Federal government, and they bring resources in. When we hit that tipping point and the city flooded, it was not within FEMA’s mission, capabilities or competency to go out and direct actual rescue operations. The Coast Guard came in and did it because we’re trained to do that. And whatever issues there are with FEMA as an organization, I hope the public does not generalize to a larger responsibility for FEMA. No matter what anybody’s issue is, there’s a tendency to say the problem is FEMA. I don’t think that’s true.
Is this a subtle way of expressing the opinion that the Coast Guard doesn’t want to take over some of FEMA’s responsibilities and capabilities in a pending reorganization, as has recently been rumored?
Vice Adm. Allen did an admirable job leading the response to Katrina in the last four months, taking on one of the most challenging assignments in the federal government in decades. There are lots of other interesting details in the interview – read the whole thing.