Category: Current Events

Investigating New Orleans Failures

In “Bush Aide Will Lead Hurricane Inquiry,” the New York Times chronicles the sort of petty bickering we’ve come to expect from kindergarteners America’s leadership. Today’s subject-of-bickering is who is to investigate the failures in New Orleans:

On Capitol Hill, Congressional Republicans continued their efforts Monday to persuade Democrats to take part in a special Congressional inquiry into government failures in the response to the hurricane. Senator Bill Frist of Tennessee, the majority leader, made a new proposal to Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the Democratic leader, that would broaden the scope of the inquiry to include the recovery effort.

I expected this, and proposed a solution weeks ago: “Bring Back The 9/11 Commission.”

Some Good News From New Orleans

John Quarterman tells of airlines sending planes to New Orleans without contracts or guarantee of payment. And the New Orleans Times Picayune tells stories of those who stayed to man the pumps in “Pace of drainage is rare bright spot.”

Incidentally, while I hate ads, the work done by the staff of the Times Picayune is outstanding. I click on an ad or two each day to help support them, and encourage you to do the same.

More on Bureaucracy

This is a follow-on to “Who Will Rid Me of This Meddlesome Bureaucracy?” and the same disclaimers apply.

I’ll note that Time Magazine has an article “How Reliable Is Brown’s Resume:

The White House press release from 2001 stated that Brown worked for the city of Edmond, Okla., from 1975 to 1978 “overseeing the emergency services division.” In fact, according to Claudia Deakins, head of public relations for the city of Edmond, Brown was an “assistant to the city manager” from 1977 to 1980, not a manager himself, and had no authority over other employees. “The assistant is more like an intern,” she told TIME. “Department heads did not report to him.” Brown did do a good job at his humble position, however, according to his boss. “Yes. Mike Brown worked for me. He was my administrative assistant. He was a student at Central State University,” recalls former city manager Bill Dashner. “Mike used to handle a lot of details. Every now and again I’d ask him to write me a speech. He was very loyal. He was always on time. He always had on a suit and a starched white shirt.”

That’s exactly what my former bosses would all say about me: I showed up on time in a starched white shirt. Isn’t that what we all look to be remembered for?

This didn’t come up in Brown’s confirmation hearings. Why not? Isn’t going through a resume, and checking up on it, an important part of the hiring process? Why didn’t any of the screening agencies, or the many watchdog, lobbying, or good government groups that fill Washington do any digging?

One answer would be because government has grown too big to manage or oversee. That as it has grown too large to manage, or to lead, we inevitably move from effectiveness to CYA. In Brown’s particular case, the confirmation hearing lasted all of 42 minutes.

Why was such a critical position so summarily approved? Because (as of 1999) there were 4,000 Presidential appointees. If we make the (false) assumptions that they all have to be approved in a year, and that the Senate does nothing but Presidential appointee advising-and-consenting, and that the Senate works 50 weeks a year, they’d still have only 30 minutes per appointee. I’ve never hired anyone after only 30 minutes of my time.

[Update: Fixed title spelling.]

Who Will Rid Me of This Meddlesome Bureaucracy?

One of the facets of the response to and analysis of Katrina is that the disaster is large enough that everyone can choose an aspect of it to look at from the comfortable heights of their favorite hobby-horse. Be it the incompetence of (state, federal, or local) government, the evils of (small or big) government, the evil of gays gathering in New Orleans, Allah’s wrath, or anything else. (I’ve touched on this before, in “New Orleans is Not A Morality Play.”)

Having said that, please join me as I ride my favorite hobby horse. It’s the very large, ponderous, un-American one that’s hard to make out under the red tape which adorns it.

One of the threads woven through many stories is the offers of help refused; the failures of initiative in the face of the need to cross ‘i’s, dot ‘t’s, and ensure that the Memorandums of Understandings between the departments are followed in all of the particulars. The phrases “you must understand” and “the way things ‘work’ in Washington” are not only trite and tired, they are frankly offensive when people are dying.

Now, it may well be the case that as any organization grows this large, controlling it requires all of that.

Does the organization need to be that large? Does DHS really need to set the rules for “passenger screening,” operate the system, and audit itself? In light of the reality that TSA screeners do no better than their private sector counterparts, I ask (again) why the department is doing that. Couldn’t their managerial talents be put to better use on a smaller number of operations?

Until the government shrinks, it won’t be possible to manage it. But to shrink the government not a passive act. Shrinking the government takes an act of will on the part of our leaders.

Bring Back The 9/11 Commission

As historians, they did a fantastic job of gathering information. They have credibility and stature. They have the perspective to tie the destruction of New Orleans to the destruction in New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania, and to consider the failures of leadership and the failures of response in the context of massive new spending to try to protect the American people.

Bring them back, and lets get answers to the questions of what happened in New Orleans, and why we didn’t respond better.

(I’ve discussed their work previously, in “The Two 9/11 Commisson Reports.”)

New Orleans Roundup

Michael Froomkin points to a claim that “Long before FEMA dropped the ball, local authorities decided they didn’t need one: See See LENIN’S TOMB: Everything has gone according to plan.” For more, the City of New Orleans web site is still operational, and has a section on Emergency Preparedness. Bruce Sterling, with only a small amount of irony writes about international offers of help, “Thank Goodness, Here Come the Brave and Generous Indians to Rescue Louisiana.”

On a more positive notes, many colleges and universities are opening their doors to the students at Tulane. Simon’s Rock, the nation’s only four-year college of the liberal arts and sciences specifically designed to provide bright, highly motivated students with the opportunity to begin college in a residential environment after the tenth or eleventh grade, is opening its doors to 11th and 12th graders who are interested in starting college now.

Katrina Roundup

Suzette Haden Elgin has an interesting essay on the “biblical proportions” construct, and its meaning. Thomas Barnett has written “The art of the long view,” which is an interesting perspective to be able to maintain right now. Another useful perspective comes from Bill west at the Counterterrorism blog in “Katrina Response – Another Quick Observation,” where he observes that the Coast Guard may have saved more than 10,000 lives by acting promptly.

That perspective is important to maintain as things that might have been scandalous on August 30th, like “U.S. Attorney’s Porn Fight Gets Bad Reviews,” now seem sort of irrelevant. But they’re all part of the reality-disconnected world that we’re allowing our elected officials and civil servants to inhabit. That world is documented in “Storm Exposed Disarray at the Top” in the Washington Post:

“We’ve had our first test, and we’ve failed miserably,” said former representative Timothy J. Roemer (D-Ind.), a member of the commission that investigated the Sept. 11 attacks. “We have spent billions of dollars in revenues to try to make our country safe, and we have not made nearly enough progress.” With Katrina, he noted that “we had some time to prepare. When it’s a nuclear, chemical or biological attack,” there will be no warning.

New Orleans Times-Picayune Open Letter To The President.

…Every official at the Federal Emergency Management Agency should be fired, Director Michael Brown especially.

In a nationally televised interview Thursday night, he said his agency hadn’t known until that day that thousands of storm victims were stranded at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center. He gave another nationally televised interview the next morning and said, “We’ve provided food to the people at the Convention Center so that they’ve gotten at least one, if not two meals, every single day.”

Lies don’t get more bald-faced than that, Mr. President.

Yet, when you met with Mr. Brown Friday morning, you told him, “You’re doing a heck of a job.”

That’s unbelievable.

Read “OUR OPINIONS: An open letter to the President” in the New Orleans Time Picayune.