Obama's Katrina Promises

The Pinstripe Brass band plays at the top of a levee to commemorate an earlier anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.
The Pinstripe Brass band plays at the top of a levee to commemorate an earlier anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.

During the presidential campaign, Barack Obama was highly critical of the Bush administration response to Hurricane Katrina, and he vowed things would improve when he was president.

In all, we found he made 17 campaign promises related to Katrina and New Orleans. As the fourth anniversary of the devastating hurricane was commemorated in the Gulf states last week, we decided to see how Obama has fared with his promises.

New Orleans residents can't help but notice that for all the talk in the campaign, Obama hasn't yet visited the still-rebuilding city as president.

Even Democratic strategist James Carville, who was raised in Louisiana, noted that fact in an interview on CNN on Aug. 30, 2009.

"I would describe myself as slightly miffed that he hasn't been down yet," Carville said. (Obama had said a day earlier that he would visit before the end of the year.)

But the New Orleans Times-Picayune notes that half of Obama's Cabinet has visited the Gulf Coast in the first six months of his term, with 19 senior administration officials making a total of 30 trips to the coast, 20 of them to Louisiana. And notably, the region has been visited repeatedly by some of the Obama administration's top officials, including Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan.

According to Louisiana officials, those visits have paid dividends.

"There seems to be high-level people working in significant ways," said Allison Plyer, deputy director of the Greater New Orleans Community Data Center. "They are trying to come up with solutions that all of us have been struggling with for three and a half years."

"We have seen an increase in payments for some of the most difficult problems with FEMA public assistance money," said Christina Stephens, spokeswoman for the Louisiana Recovery Authority.

Even Louisiana's Republican governor, Bobby Jindal, credited Obama's team with bringing a more practical and flexible approach to federal aid for the Gulf Coast region, according to an Aug. 27, 2009, Associated Press story. Doug O'Dell, former President George W. Bush's recovery coordinator, talked about the Obama administration's "new vision" and said: "What people have said to me is that for whatever reason, problems that were insurmountable under previous leadership are getting resolved quickly."

Those efforts have set our Obameter abuzz.

We have moved the needle to In the Works for several promises, including ones to shake loose federal money for rebuilding the Gulf Coast as well as rebuilding hospitals in New Orleans.

We also gave an In the Works to Obama's promise to strengthen the levees in New Orleans. The Army Corps of Engineers is more than one-third of the way through construction of an improved levee system to provide 100-year flood protection for New Orleans, and White House officials say the administration is committed to keeping these projects on track to be completed by 2011. But New Orleans residents are still waiting for tangible progress toward the ultimate goal of providing protection against a Category 5 storm.

And we rated two Katrina promises as Kept: one to establish crime prevention programs for the New Orleans area; and another to help rebuild schools in New Orleans. We'll be adding updates on other Katrina promises as we get more details.