9.15.2005

Bigger, Faster, Stronger!

In his speech tonight, President Bush asserted that the federal government's failure to adequately respond in the aftermath of Katrina indicates that it needs more power and authority.

But according to emergency management expert William C. Nicholson (and several other experts, according to Ira Glass of This American Life), the Department of Homeland Security had all the authority it needed, once the president had declared a state of emergency. Nicholson said that "there was all the authority in the world." Under the National Response Plan, even if the president hadn't declared a state of emergency, Chertoff, the head of Homeland Insecurity, could have acted. "It's utterly clear that they had the authority to preposition assets and to significantly accelerate the federal response.... They did not need to wait for the state." (Click on the Ira Glass link above and listen to the first few minutes.)

But Louisiana Governor Blanco did declare a state of emergency on the Friday before the storm. (Administration shills claimed she hadn't.) She then asked the president to follow through, which he did, and...well, you know what didn't happen then.

The point isn't to assess Bush's proportional responsibility for the weak federal response but to stress that this situation should not be used as a pretext to give the federal government more power. It may, however, be a great reason to fire the political appointees who staff FEMA (following the late but welcome resignation of Michael Brown) and to liberate that agency from the yoke of Michael Chertoff, who we could roast over some hot coals while we're at it. That would give the agency its former power without actually increasing that of the federal government. And it would give some stray New Orleans dogs some much longed-for, if stringy meat.

DISCLAIMER: I'm not suggesting Blanco, Nagin, Barbour, or anybody else down here be absolved of responsibility. But the early Administration "don't look at us" line was perfumed bullshit.

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