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.' "
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.