Failure of government

While the many in both the mainstream media and the blogosphere want to blame Katrina and its aftermath on President Bush and others place the responsibility squarely on the shoulders of local and state government, there is a basic point that is being missed: Katrina demonstrated the failure of government bureaucracy.

Today's NY Times, presents a laundry list of all the things that are not going well in Katrina recovery. The recuring theme is the inability of bureaucrats to multi-task and think outside of the box. Local governments continue to wait for FEMA permission even to rebuild destroyed sewer systems (which will allow the flood waters to return next time it rains), while evacuees cannot get through on the FEMA hotline which is completely overtaxed.

"I don't think federal bureaucracy can handle the next disaster," said Toye Taylor, the president of Washington Parish, one of the hardest hit areas in Louisiana, who met with Mr. Bush this week. "I expressed to the president that it would take a new partnership between the military and private sector," Mr. Taylor said. "Because there will be another one and I don't think the federal government is going to be able to help."

John Tierney, in the same issue of the Times, recounts the story of the Acadian Ambulance company who rescued survivors in New Orleans while both local, state, and federal officials dithered.

The city's communications system was wiped out, but Acadian dispatchers kept working, thanks to a backup power system and a portable antenna rushed here the day after the hurricane. As stranded patients wondered what had happened to the city's medics and ambulances, Acadian medics filled in at the Superdome and evacuated thousands from six hospitals.

Possibly the very worst breakdown at FEMA involved a bureaucrat's refusal of help from doctors and nurses while patients died. Why?

"When the doctors asked why they couldn't help these critically ill people lying there unattended," Mr. Creswell recalled, "the FEMA people kept saying, 'You're not federalized.' "

Much has been said recently about the military response on the Gulf Coast. Lacking the multiple layers of bureacracy and regulation that has left FEMA hamstrung, the military is able to make things happen. Private industry, like the Acadian Ambulance company, is able to improvise on the spot without having to ask permission. Private entrepeneurs are trained to get the job done; government employees are trained to follow regulations.

The failure of Katrina is a failure of government, but was also the failure of the American people who have been conditioned since FDR to rely on an ineffective, bloated bureaucracy to come to the rescue. A private-military partnership that circumvents government bureaucracy may be the best answer for future natural disasters. At the same times, the American people must be weaned from the idea that government can provide everything for them.


Anonymous said…
I see what you're saying S Bell but i have to wonder, is this what the next stage in globalisation feels like? When corporations are more reliable than governments at helping people in crises, what sensible person would put their trust in government? What next?
I mean, Bill Gates' company is funding the majority of research into AIDS cures and organisations that recieve no government funding are doing more to help the Third World than the governments themselves. How long till corporations are stepping in above the law to enforce peace or regulate trade?
This is already quite evident in the privatisation of public services in the UK where i live. Private companies are buying up the Water, Postal and many of the transport services from the government. And in many cases they work better for it!
I figure it's because corporations are little dictatorships run by a few people that the rest are obliged to obey or forfeit their salary. Government is (in theory)open to any candidate and, aside from the risk of criminal punishment, people have little incentive to listen to them. Conversely, the it's people who pay money to the government in grossly unfair proportion to their salary.
I'm not saying that a dictatorship is the way to go with government but there does need to be a higher awareness of the dangerous situation we're getting into here handing over the reigns to a few successful businessmen. And the governments need to learn that the way to iprove is not by creating more regulations and procedures and protocols but by trusting the running of the departments to the professionals within them without binding them down in endless restrictions.