In a segment about Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius' comments that the war in Iraq has resulted in shortages of National Guard equipment and therefore hampered recovery efforts from a deadly tornado, KDVR Fox 31 co-anchor Ron Zappolo uncritically reported White House press secretary Tony Snow's assertion that Sebelius never "asked the government to fill any shortages." In fact, Sebelius made numerous requests to replace National Guard equipment before the disaster.
On the May 8 broadcast of KDVR Fox 31's News at Nine O'Clock, co-anchor Ron Zappolo uncritically reported White House spokesman Tony Snow's baseless assertion that Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius (D) never "asked the government to fill any shortages" of National Guard equipment before a deadly tornado hit the state on May 4. Zappolo stated that Sebelius -- who criticized the "slow" federal response to the disaster -- said "the war in Iraq is limiting resources, but the White House says that's not the case." However, as the weblog Think Progress has noted, Sebelius -- on "repeated occasions" dating back to December of 2005 -- "made clear to the White House that Kansas was dangerously low on National Guard equipment."
Furthermore, as the Associated Press reported (registration required) on September 5, 2006, "Sebelius and governors from around the country have been lobbying the Pentagon for increased funding to replace National Guard equipment that has been left in Iraq or damaged beyond repair after repeated use in war."
From the May 8 broadcast of KDVR Fox 31's News at Nine O'Clock:
ZAPPOLO: President Bush will be in Kansas tomorrow touring the damage left by a deadly tornado. As the town of Greensburg continues to deal with the devastation, the White House and the governor engage in a blame game. Governor Kathleen Sebelius says the war in Iraq is limiting resources, but the White House says that's not the case.
SNOW [video clip]: And there are, in fact, enormous resources available to the state if they do need them. In terms of 83,000 National Guard units, hundreds of trucks, thousands of lift vehicles, helicopters.
ZAPPOLO: Snow said the governor should have asked the government to fill any shortages, but never did.
But as The Topeka Capital-Journal reported in a June 29, 2006, article, Sebelius "reminded" then-Army Secretary Francis J. Harvey "about the state's loss of military equipment each time Kansas National Guard units are deployed." The article further noted:
To date, the Guard estimates, the state has left about $140 million in equipment overseas -- such as tents, computers, trucks, semitrailers and machine gun mounts.
Sebelius and other governors have said the loss of equipment leaves states vulnerable in emergencies or natural disasters. The federal government has pledged to spend $20 billion during the next six years to replace lost equipment to National Guard units across the country.
However, only $1.5 billion was included in this year's federal budget for equipment.
[Sebelius spokeswoman Nicole] Corcoran said Harvey asked for a list of the equipment the state had lost. The governor's office sent him one on Wednesday. Sebelius also had sent a list in December to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
Similarly, The New York Times reported on May 9: "For months, Gov. Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas and other governors have warned that their state National Guards are ill-prepared for the next local disaster, be it a tornado a flash flood or a terrorist's threat, because of large deployments of their soldiers and equipment in Iraq and Afghanistan." The Times also noted:
Last year, all 50 governors signed a letter to President Bush asking for the immediate re-equipping of Guard units sent overseas. But officials in several states, including Kentucky, Minnesota and Texas, said Tuesday that they were not facing equipment shortages.
National Guard units overseas are often assigned engineering missions, and the skills and equipment -- bulldozers and trucks, for example -- are also what might be required to deal with a natural disaster at home.
Finally, contrary to Snow's assertion -- reported by Fox 31 -- that Sebelius did not ask for resources, Think Progress provided a timeline of Sebelius' numerous requests to the Bush administration, including one as recently as February 27:
- Dec. 30, 2005: Sebelius writes to Rumsfeld requesting new equipment. "The Guard was critical to responding to recent blizzards and floods in Kansas, yet its ability to respond to similar situations is being diminished by a lack of equipment," wrote Sebelius. Included with her letter was a list of equipment Kansas had lost to the Iraq war. [Kansas City Star, 1/21/06; Topeka Capital-Journal, 6/29/06]
- Jan. 23, 2006: Sebelius personally urges Bush to increase National Guard funding. In an one-hour motorcade ride in Kansas with Bush, Sebelius expressed concern about "a reduction of National Guard troop strength in its next budget." Bush assured her he was "dealing" with the shortages. [Topeka Capital-Journal, 1/24/06; Kansas City Star, 3/11/06]
- June 28, 2006: Sebelius sends Army Secretary list of equipment lost in war. In a meeting with Army Secretary Francis J. Harvey, Sebelius told Harvey that the state had lost about $140 million in National Guard equipment to the Iraq war. Her office then sent him a list of the lost equipment. [Topeka Capital-Journal, 6/29/06]
- Sept. 2006: Sebelius lobbies for replacement of National Guard equipment sent to Iraq. "Kansas' congressional delegation, Sebelius and governors from around the country have been lobbying the Pentagon for increased funding to replace National Guard equipment that has been left in Iraq or damaged beyond repair after repeated use in war." [AP, 9/5/06]
- Feb. 27, 2007: Sebelius pushes White House and Congress for more funding. "Now the Guard needs Washington's help," Sebelius said in press conference on Capitol Hill. "The President and Congress need to step up to the plate and give our Guard members the support they deserve." [Press Release, 2/27/07]