Melancon, along with Republican Rep. Tom Davis, is leading the House Select Committee investigating the government response to Hurricane Katrina. The two representatives wrote to Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff in late September and requested DHH documents and internal communications from the weeks following Katrina's landfall. More than 900 pages of e-mails were released on Oct. 18, and Melancon and his staff analyzed the correspondence. What they found was shocking incompetence on the part of former FEMA Director Michael Brown ' and last week they posted the e-mails and analysis on Melancon's Web site for the world to see. More than 300,000 visitors requested or downloaded the documents the day they were put up.
"I'm not looking to go and beat up on anybody, but it's quite obvious [Brown] was not doing his job," says Melancon by phone from his Washington, D.C., office. "Some people are saying, 'Melancon's trying to hurt the president [with these documents]. But these are documents that the majority allowed to be released. My concern is that the people back home are only going to hear what little bit makes it in the news, and it's hard to cover everything in this matter. So I said, 'Put 'em up on the Web site.'"
In the e-mails ' written during the most critical phases of post-Katrina relief efforts ' Brown appears more concerned with his image, his clothes, and finding a dog-sitter. On the morning Katrina hit, a FEMA public affairs representative complimented Brown on a television appearance, and he e-mailed back, "I got it at Nordstroms. Are you proud of me?" An hour later, Brown e-mailed again to say, "If you'll look at my lovely FEMA attire you'll really vomit. I am a fashion god."
In perhaps the most damning exchange, FEMA employee Marty Bahamonde in New Orleans e-mailed Brown the morning of Wednesday, Aug. 31. Bahamonde wrote, "Sir, I know that you know the situation is past critical. Here are some things you might not know. Hotels are kicking people out, thousands gathering in the streets with no food or water. Hundreds still being rescued from homes.
"The dying patients at the DMAT tent being medivac [sic]. Estimates that many will die within hours. Evacuation in process. Plans developing for dome evacuation but hotel situation adding to problem. We are out of food and running out of water at the dome, plans in works to address the critical need. FEMA staff is OK and holding own. DMAT staff working in deplorable conditions. â?¦ Phone connectivity impossible."
Brown's response? "Thanks for the update. Anything specific I need to do or tweak?" The same day, Brown wrote another e-mail: "Can I quit now? Can I come home?"
Such correspondence hardly supports Brown's previous testimony before Congress about his job performance. "I get it when it comes to emergency management," Brown testified on Sept. 27. "I know what it's all about." Melancon says he looked at all Brown's e-mails to put them in context. "There's always some time for levity, and I could have looked at some of these e-mails and said, 'Well, the guy's got a sense of humor.' But I don't see him giving orders, and I don't see any leadership."
Brown's failures are undeniable, but questions remain about other federal government employees and agencies. Brown testified that he exchanged e-mails with White House officials ' including Chief of Staff Andrew Card ' but none of those e-mails have been turned over to the House Select Committee for Katrina response. Melancon and Davis have also requested e-mail communications involving Chertoff, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and others, but the Bush administration has not complied with the request.
"We haven't gotten anything from the White House or the Pentagon, and Chertoff hasn't responded to the request," says Melancon.
Melancon notes that the request for documents ' with an Oct. 14 deadline ' also extended to the state level, including Gov. Kathleen Blanco, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour and Alabama Gov. Bob Riley. He says that Blanco has requested a 90-day extension to produce documentation, while Barbour and Riley have yet to respond.
The lack of cooperation at the federal level has been frustrating for Melancon, and he remains unsure whether the White House or DHH will ever release the documents. And he has other pressing matters at hand. "I have a thousand things going every day ' shrimpers' problems, oyster farmers' problems, sugar cane farmers' problems ' and this is a part-time committee that expires in February. Our focus should be on the disaster areas and getting people back on their feet."
Lafayette Police have had a busy day.
Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration will use $130 million in patchwork financing from a tax amnesty program, insurance settlement, uninsured motorist penalties and other excess funds to close most of the state's midyear budget deficit.
Democratic U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu said she disagrees with President Barack Obama's actions on immigration, hoping the latest controversy doesn't worsen her campaign difficulties.
Gay-rights advocates challenging Louisiana's same-sex marriage ban announced Thursday that they have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review their case before it is heard by a federal appeals court.
Thinking himself the “son of God,” the man charged with the 2013 killing of an officer of the Chitimacha Tribal Police will not stand trial following a ruling Thursday on his mental competency.
Either Saints coach Sean Payton doesn't want to tip Baltimore off as to who'll start in New Orleans' secondary on Monday night, or he really doesn't know yet.
Friday's Blogs from the Bog!
Ten departing CEOs rake in $430 million; profile of FSU gunman emerges; Buffalo's weather woes and more national and international news for Friday, November 21, 2014.
The Ethics Board gives the lame duck Youngsville mayor permission to offer a sweet parting gift to the community he’s presided over for three terms.
The money came through a general obligation bond sale Thursday.
A legend in the Acadiana Oil Patch, Comeaux died Monday, Nov. 17.
With a growing number of alleged sexual assault victims coming out against Bill Cosby in recent weeks, upcoming projects have been canned by NBC and Netflix, but that won’t affect the once-loved comedian and actor’s scheduled performance in Lafayette.
The Baltimore Ravens' retooled secondary had no trouble against a rookie quarterback at home. This week, however, their task is far more challenging: stopping Drew Brees on the road in New Orleans.
Add Texas Gov. Rick Perry's name to the list of possible Republican presidential candidates flooding the campaign trail for GOP Senate candidate Bill Cassidy.
Gov. Bobby Jindal is in Florida this week with his fellow Republican governors for another gripe session aimed at their favorite target, the president, this time taking aim at his immigration plans.
Early voting for the runoff is shortened by two days because of the Thanksgiving holiday.
“Coach Don” Gagnard is running for school board. Today he offers his critique of the socioeconomic relationship between government subsidies and obesity.
Former Le Rosier chef who cooked at the James Beard House and was named one of the “Best New Chefs in America” by Food & Wine magazine in 1995 was 48.
Pat Cooper is contesting his termination by the LPSB, filing a petition Tuesday that calls the recent decision “arbitrary and capricious.”
A look at the numbers highlights the challenge facing Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu as she tries to win a fourth term in a Dec. 6 runoff against Republican Rep. Bill Cassidy.
Incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is promising the new Republican majority will quickly resurrect Keystone XL pipeline legislation killed by Democrats, potentially setting up an early 2015 veto confrontation with President Barack Obama.
A national animal rights group has been rebuffed by a Baton Rouge district court judge, although the group might still get its day in court.
The administration says public college campuses won't be on the chopping block.
The legendary musician is performing at a $1,000-per-person fundraiser Dec. 1 in New Orleans.
Old savings and checking accounts, payroll checks, stocks and dividends, insurance proceeds, oil and gas royalty payments and other unclaimed money is sent to the state when a business cannot locate someone.