The federal response to Hurricane Katrina came in for withering criticism in the Senate, as lawmakers from both parties blasted the Dept. of Homeland Security and its Federal Emergency Management Agency unit for being unprepared for the massive storm and failing to act quickly or effectively after it hit the Gulf Coast.

Chertoff concedes "many lapses" in DHS response.

Appearing before the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on Feb. 15, DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff conceded that there were "many lapses that occurred" in his department's efforts to deal with Katrina late last summer. He said he takes responsibility for DHS's actions and also said he is responsible for making needed improvements.

The criticism of DHS and FEMA was blunt and bipartisan. Committee Chairman Susan Collins (R-Maine) termed the federal preparation and response to the storms an utter failure. "The federal department that was supposed to lead, direct and coordinate the federal response to Katrina was, time and again, late, uncertain and ineffective," said Collins, whose panel has held 20 hearings on the hurricane.

Collins calls federal actions "late, uncertain and ineffective"

After Katrina hit land, "the department far too often appeared to be frozen with indecision and nearly paralyzed by ineffective communications," Collins said.

The committee's top Democrat, Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, was just as harsh, contending there was "a jarring lack of preparation" for the storm and comparing federal agencies to the "Keystone Cops."

Chertoff, a former U.S. attorney and federal judge, who was sworn in as DHS secretary exactly one year earlier, called the hurricane "one of the most difficult and traumatic experiences of my life." He also noted that Katrina's damage was "unprecedented" in its scope, affecting about 90,000 square miles.

In his prepared testimony, Chertoff reiterated several steps announced two days earlier to make improvements at DHS and FEMA in logistics, communications, debris removal and handling claims.

Later the same day, across Capitol Hill, a special House committee released a scathing report on hurricane response, widening the criticism beyond the federal response to include actions of state and local governments, individuals, and the private sector.

The panel's chairman, Rep. Thomas Davis (R-Va.), said, "One-size-fits-all plans proved impervious to clear warnings of extraordinary peril. Category 5 needs elicited a Category 1 response."

Davis also said, "The failure of local, state and federal governments to respond more effectively to Katrina demonstrates that whatever emergency response improvements have been made after 9/11, we are still not fully prepared."