Tony Snow: On Walter Reed, The Buck Doesn’t Stop Here

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By: E&P Staff

When the first articles about severe problems at Walter Reed Army Medical Center broke in The Washington Post last month, reporters asked White House spokesman Tony Snow why they detected no sense of alarm or outrage from the administration. He suggested the problems were limited and more needed to be probed.

Now, after two more weeks of headlines and firings, has anything changed? Would the commander in chief say the buck stopped with him? Not quite.

Asked by a reporter about this, Snow replied vaguely, ?Well, in a sense, the President — and also everybody within the chain of command — are taking responsibility. It’s time to shine a bright light on the entire system and find out where the failings may be, and address them.?

Snow was then pressed, ?But the President hasn’t said in any way, shape, or form, this is my responsibility, this is on me??

He replied: ?Okay, well, I’ll take the rhetorical flourish under advisement.?

Another reporter asked, ?Has the President been hearing from anyone particularly, reaching out, making phone calls, and just asking their thoughts or their personal experiences —

Snow: ?What the President is really trying to do right now is to assemble people who can devote their full time and attention to an exhaustive look, as I said, to shine light on the system and to take a comprehensive look at what’s going on. I’m not aware — as you know, April, he had a very busy weekend, and he was on the road Thursday and Friday, as well. I’m not aware of any reach out calls to ask people about personal experiences. But on the other hand, what he has been doing is making sure that people take a good look to find out what the situation is — no excuses, get the facts, get it fixed.?

He also denied that the unfolding revelations suggested an extensive level of “incompetence.”

Excerpts from the transcript follow.

*
Q But isn’t it sad that it takes Walter Reed to go back into the V.A. system that has been a problem for so, so many years?

MR. SNOW: Well, again, that’s an editorial comment I’m not willing to make. A couple of things. Number one, this administration has been committed to trying to improve things through the ’08 budget that the President has proposed. We’re talking about a 77 percent increase in V.A. spending, as well as an 83 percent increase in medical spending for the military. But having said that, the point I made before is, they’ve given us their best, it’s time that we make sure we give them our best, when it comes to their care.
*

Q Why did it require media exposure for the President and the administration to act on this?

MR. SNOW: I think what happened was that people weren’t aware of it. And that was one of the sources of concern.

Q So none of the letters or the protests that have been expressed by the veterans’ families ever reached anyone in a position of power?

MR. SNOW: Well, apparently, what happened was that within the chain of command, things were not getting up high enough and, therefore, weren’t acted upon.

Q And the President and the administration wasn’t aware of other media reports that came out last year about these issues?

MR. SNOW: I don’t want to say that nobody was aware of them, but when the President saw the story in The Post, that was the first he was aware of what was going on in Unit 18. And as I told you the following day, he wanted to know what was wrong and get it fixed.
*

Q Is the “rapid and definitive” response, in some part, out of the memory of what happened when there wasn’t a rapid and definitive response?

MR. SNOW: No. It’s out of being concerned and alarmed by the reporting.

Q But, Tony, the reason there’s no comparison is that Katrina was a natural disaster, whereas this situation at Walter Reed is something over which the administration had control. And it would suggest there was incompetence or, you know, not —

MR. SNOW: And what did you see — and you saw the immediate holding of people accountable. Again, Sheryl, the first the President saw of that was in the pages of The Post. And that set in train without having to — the President didn’t have to call Bob Gates, people in the higher levels of the chain of command were not aware of it and that is a failing of the system.

Q But doesn’t it speak to the larger level of incompetence —

MR. SNOW: No, I don’t think so.

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