The Republican and Democratic leaders of a Senate committee chastised Homeland Security Director Michael Chertoff Wednesday as a congressional inquiry found that thousands of Hurricane Katrina's victims could have been spared though better planning and faster action.
For his part, Chertoff acknowledged missteps on his watch and accepted responsibility.
Chertoff told the panel that if he had it to do all over again he wouldn't have given overall responsibility for the Katrina recovery to the man who was also in charge of FEMA at the time, Michael Brown.
Brown has since accused Chertoff and White House officials of ignoring his warnings on the day of the storm, but Chertoff insisted again that he didn't realize until the day after Katrina struck that New Orleans levees had been breached.
Chertoff acknowledged there were "many lapses" in his agency's response. He promises they'll be fixed before the start of the next hurricane season.
Chertoff testified as a separate House investigation concluded that a lot of deaths and suffering could have been avoided if the government had taken a more hands-on approach to disaster preparedness.
Cong. Chip Pickering of Mississippi's third district called the committee's report "a failure of initiative."
"We cannot afford in lives or in resources to fail to learn the lessons of Hurricane Katrina. We will introduce FEMA reform legislation," Pickering said. "We will introduce a Disaster Victims' Bill of Rights. We will see new policies to improve preparation before storms and reaction after storms."
Pickering said he is assembling a bipartisan, bicameral task force to move forward these legislative priorities.
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