Senate Democrats

Reid Tells Frist the American People Deserve Independent Answers

Washington, DC – Democratic Leader Harry Reid wrote a letter to Majority Leader William Frist regarding his proposal for investigating the government’s response to Hurricane Katrina.

The text of the letter is below:

September 22, 2005

The Honorable William Frist
Majority Leader
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510

Dear Leader Frist:

Thank you for your latest proposal with respect to how the Senate should conduct its investigation of the government’s failure to properly prepare for and respond to Hurricane Katrina. We agree that the American people have a right to know how these failures occurred and the steps needed to ensure that their government does not fail them again when disaster next hits. We also agree that Congress has an obligation to play a role in addressing these issues.

Unfortunately, your most recent proposal still would not permit a full and impartial examination of the critical facts. Rather than permitting a true bipartisan investigation by the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, your proposal would give only Republicans the ultimate authority to determine the scope and direction of the investigation. In addition, rather than permitting the committee to fully explore the Bush Administration’s entire disaster preparedness and response record since 9/11, the proposal seeks to limit the scope of the committee’s investigation solely to the government’s actions “in preparation for and efforts to respond to and recover from Hurricane Katrina.”

A broad investigation is important because the problems with our government’s preparedness and response to Katrina did not materialize overnight, but were the product of a string of bad decisions stretching over several years. This narrow scope in your proposal would leave too many important questions unanswered. To take just one example, your proposal would bar the committee from examining whether the Administration has undermined FEMA, the most critical federal disaster preparedness and response agency, by turning it into a political dumping ground. The fact that your proposal contains these flaws highlights why the American people do not trust the congressional Republican leadership to fully and impartially investigate this Republican Administration.

This is why Senate Democrats and the vast majority of the American people believe that the best way to provide the survivors and all Americans with the answers they deserve is for the Congress to establish an independent, non-partisan commission similar to the commission established in the wake of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. That commission was free of conflicts of interests and partisan politics. As a result, the American people trusted it to ask the difficult questions, and its recommendations enjoyed broad bipartisan support.

I have yet to hear a legitimate argument against an independent commission to investigate Katrina. The only argument I have heard is that the commission process would take too much time. Yet this argument is without merit. As the record shows, there were two reasons why it took time for the 9/11 commission to produce its findings. First, for more than a year, the Bush Administration and the vast majority of congressional Republicans vehemently fought bipartisan efforts to establish the commission. Moreover, the commission’s work was further slowed by the Bush Administration’s decision to restrict or deny the commission access to important Administration officials and documents. If congressional Republicans decide to immediately drop their opposition to this commission, I am confident we could get a Katrina commission bill to the President’s desk within a matter of days and the commission could begin functioning shortly thereafter.

Given your continued opposition to an independent commission and a true bipartisan congressional investigation, I continue to believe that the quickest and best way for Congress to play its role is to follow the regular order and permit the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee to begin its investigation immediately. Under the rules adopted by the Senate, this committee already possesses all the authority it needs to commence a full and thorough investigation of all of the issues raised by Hurricane Katrina. In fact, no additional Senate action is needed to ensure that this committee and all other Senate committees have the authority they need to conduct a comprehensive and exhaustive investigation of all the circumstances surrounding Katrina. The best way we can assist these efforts is to ensure that the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, and indeed all Senate committees, have the resources they need to carry out this investigation, and I am glad that you agree with me on this.

In light of all these factors, I have concluded that Senate approval of your proposal would not further our mutual goal of determining why the government failed the people of the Gulf Coast. Clearly, it would not lead to the kind of bipartisan and unfettered investigation the American people have a right to expect from their elected representatives. I therefore hope you will reconsider your opposition to a Senate vote on an independent commission and your flawed approach to a congressional investigation. If you do so, I am confident that together we can provide the Katrina survivors and all Americans with badly-needed answers about why their government failed to adequately prepare for and respond to Hurricane Katrina. They deserve no less.


Harry Reid
U.S. Senate