Washington Examiner: Bredesen: Flood hearing appropriate

Posted on June 30, 2010

Gov. Phil Bredesen says a congressional hearing into communications and decisions related to the historic flood in Tennessee in May is the right step and could be helpful in avoiding future disasters.

The governor said the purpose of a hearing, announced this week by U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, should not necessarily be to point fingers or lay blame but to gather the best information about what happened when Nashville and much of the rest of the state suffered one of its worst disasters on record.

Alexander announced Monday that the Senate Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee will hold a hearing July 22 to review how federal agencies reacted to the flood. Alexander is a member of the subcommittee. The senator said the hearing would focus on communications between the Army Corps of Engineers and the National Weather Service.

The hearing is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. ET (8:30 a.m. CT) at the Dirksen Senate Office Building in Washington. July 22 is a Thursday.

Those invited to testify include members of the Tennessee congressional delegation; Gen. John Peabody, commander of the Great Lakes and Ohio River Division of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; Dr. Jack Hayes, director of the National Weather Service; James Bassham, director of the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency; Nashville Mayor Karl Dean; Millington Mayor Richard Hodges; Whit Adamson, president of the Tennessee Association of Broadcasters; and Bert Matthews, chairman of the board of directors for the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce.

Fifth District U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper in May called for congressional hearings on decisions by the Corps of Engineers in days and weeks before the flooding. Cooper has put together a slideshow on the disaster, which raises specific questions more than it projects criticism. But Cooper has said more investigation is needed.

Bredesen said a full review is the right approach.

"The issue of the federal government laying it out on the table and taking a look at exactly what happened with the Corps of Engineers is perfectly appropriate," Bredesen said. "I've expressed the concerns I've had about that. There are a lot of concerns expressed by a lot of different people about how it happened and about the communication that surrounded the whole effort.

"So I think doing that in the Senate, and I guess Jim Cooper is considering following that with something in the House, is perfectly appropriate."

Bredesen said he had frustrations and difficulty communicating with the Corps in response to the disaster.

"I think at this point nobody is pointing fingers and blaming, but when something like this happens and there are questions, that's what these hearings are for. Let's ask some questions. Let's get it out on the table. Let's find out if there are some better ways to do it," Bredesen said.

"I have no idea whether they acted properly or not in the way they released water and those things, but after any kind of event like this, go assess what went right and what went wrong. There were questions about what the Corps did. Fine, let's assess it."

Bredesen emphasized the effort should not be geared toward finding fault.

"My sense of it is I'm not trying to hang anybody, and I don't think Senator Alexander is. We're just trying to ask, how did it work, how can it be better the next time around, and these hearings, I think, are a good approach to doing that."

The Corps of Engineers is expected to conduct a "post-flood report," which will be a thorough review of the disaster. The report is expected to take months to complete, although published reports have said funding to complete such a report is an issue. A more routine "after-action review" is expected in July.