Leader of Hurricane Katrina Task Force Briefs Oversight Committee on Failure of Administration’s Coronavirus Response
Washington, D.C. (May 8, 2020)—Today, retired Lieutenant General Russel L. Honoré, who was appointed by President George W. Bush to lead a unified taskforce in response to Hurricane Katrina, provided a video briefing to Democratic and Republican Members of the Committee on Oversight and Reform on lessons from Katrina that could improve the Trump Administration’s response to the coronavirus crisis. Chairwoman Maloney issued the following statement after the briefing:
“Today, General Honoré made clear that the Trump Administration has all the tools it needs for a robust response to the coronavirus crisis, but has failed to use them. The Administration failed to prepare after being warned, failed to procure tests and supplies when they were needed, and is failing now to protect Americans as it seeks to reopen the economy regardless of the risks.
“I urge the President to heed General Honoré’s advice—create a clear command structure, make full use of the Defense Production Act to acquire and distribute critical supplies, and develop an actionable plan for nationwide testing so we can safely reopen.
“We have already lost more than 75,000 Americans to this deadly virus—more than any nation on Earth. I hope all of my colleagues, both Democrats and Republicans, will join me in urging the Administration to show the leadership necessary to defeat this threat.”
“We Are Not Winning.”
When asked whether we are winning the war against coronavirus, Lt. Gen. Honoré stated: “I can’t say we’re winning when we have friends and loved ones and fellow citizens dying at a rate of 2,000 a day and that number could double in the next 30 days. We are not winning. We are surviving.” He went on to say, “We have to go on the offense, and the key to any major campaign like this is you have to dominate the battlefield with logistics and with people to execute test, test, test, contain, track, and trace.”
Administration’s Failure to Learn Lessons from Hurricane Katrina.
Lt. Gen. Honoré stressed the importance of “creating a culture of preparedness” with strong federal leadership. He described how the Trump Administration failed to follow this model and has not used “legacy knowledge” from successful previous efforts. Lt. General Honoré explained that in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, FEMA implemented a system to manage assistance requests from states and localities, but the Trump Administration does not appear to be using that system to ensure Americans have what they need to survive.
Need for a Unified Command Structure.
Lt. Gen. Honoré stressed the need for a national command strategy for testing, tracing, and containing the spread of the coronavirus. He noted that the White House Task Force has “supplanted” the National Security Council—which successfully coordinated past pandemic and disaster responses—and the Trump Administration’s lead officials and agencies have changed repeatedly over time.
Need for Federal Leadership to Combat Testing and Supply Shortages.
Lt. Gen. Honoré called on the Administration to take charge of the procurement and distribution of critical supplies to alleviate the strain on state and local governments and successfully reopen the country. He emphasized the need to utilize the Department of Defense’s global capacity to determine requirements, acquire and transport supplies, and fully implement the Defense Production Act. Lt. Gen. Honoré rejected the Administration’s view that the federal government should be a “last resort” for life-saving supplies. He also expressed concerns with Project Airbridge, calling it a “technique I have never heard of used before” and warning that it led to harmful competition for scarce supplies among states, the federal government, and private industry.
Need to Prepare for Upcoming Disasters.
Lt. Gen. Honoré told the Committee that FEMA is not equipped for long-term response to both the coronavirus pandemic and natural disasters, including the upcoming hurricane season that experts predict will be severe. Lt. Gen. Honoré warned that without strong federal leadership, Americans could face food shortages, and FEMA could face problems with sourcing and distributing supplies