Over the years, several projects either were short-changed or never got started. The Southeast Louisiana Urban Flood Control Project was authorized by Congress after a rainstorm killed six people in May 1995. It was to be finished in 10 years, but funding reductions prevented its completion before Katrina struck.
The Army Corps of Engineers did spend $430 million to renovate pumping stations and shore up the levees. But experts said the project fell behind schedule after funding was reduced in 2003 and 2004.
The Lake Pontchartrain Project was a $750-million Corps operation for new levees and beefed-up pumping stations. Because of funding cuts, it was only 80% complete when the hurricane hit.
The project that never was started was an examination of storm surges from large hurricanes. Congress approved the study but did not allocate the funds for it.
In May, Al Naomi, the Corps' senior project manager for the New Orleans district, reminded political and business leaders and emergency management officials that a Category 4 or 5 hurricane was always possible. After that meeting, Walter Brooks, the regional planning commission director, came away shaking his head.
"We've learned that we're not as safe as we thought we were," he told the local newspaper, the Times-Picayune.
Last week, Corps commander Strock defended past work, saying, it was his "personal and professional assessment" that work in New Orleans was never underfunded. What he meant by that, he explained, was that no one expected such a large disaster before all the renovations and other improvements could be completed.
"That was as good as it was going to get," he said. " We knew that it would protect from a Category 3 hurricane. In fact, it has been through a number of Category 3 hurricanes."
But, he said, Katrina's intensity "simply exceeded the design capacity of the levee."
Asked whether in hindsight he wished more had been done, Strock said: "I really don't express surprise in my business. We don't sit around and say 'Gee whiz.' "
Times staff writer Mary Curtius contributed to this report.