L. Neil Smith's
THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 338, September 25, 2005
"Listening to the Libertarians Yapping"
Lessons That Will Never Be Learned
Exclusive to TLE
Hurricane Katrina was a much nastier piece of work than was expected. Perhaps thousands of deaths, over eighty percent of New Orleans flooded, a city of a million will soon be nearly deserted.
Strangely though, the memory of the disaster that will stay with most people the longest is not the storm itself, but the "slowness" of the response. The Bush administration is being flayed in the media for not getting resources to the scene in a timely manner.
Was the Federal Government response slower than it should have been? Probably. But given the magnitude of the disaster, it may be understandable. The picture that I carry of the Federal response is a rather rambling speech by the President and the meaningless blather of the newly made chief of Homeland Security.
Mr. Chertoff may be a nice person but thus far he is a hopeless failure as head of the government agency with the task of dealing with disasters, natural or manmade.
Every time the President delivers a message about the hurricane, there is Sec. Chertoff, hovering in the background. My question is; WHY? Why is he in Washington at all? Shouldn't the head of Homeland Security be a little closer to the action? If it was my job, I'd be on the ground seeing what actually happened and what was needed, rather than watching the events unfolding on TV and hearing reports from underlings.
Would that make a big difference? I'd hope so. If nothing else, it would show that Washington was really interested. Would it keep the media from skewering the Federal Government for a lack of timely response? Probably not.
Amazingly, as I'm writing this, Sec. Chertoff is saying that maybe FEMA should be moved from its current subordinate role to a primary one. How about that?
And in a totally unexpected move(?), Mike Brown, the head of FEMA has resigned to be replaced by a professional fire-fighter. What a concept..
I might point out that both Chertoff and Brown are both lawyers. With all the retired generals with vast disaster response experience and the number of retired high-ranking intelligence officers we have, the best the President could do was appoint two lawyers?
So much for the Federal response. The only response that is being criticized in the media. Are there any other bodies that share the blame or is it all Washington's fault.
What about the state government of Louisiana?
I recall hearing Governor Kathleen Blanco, for three days running, yakking about what she was going to do in response to the disaster. Nothing about how little she did before the storm, only what would happen later. And it was usually predicated on Federal resources, not on what Louisiana was going to contribute. There is also a report that she was asked early on if she needed any Federal assistance. She supposedly replied that she wanted twenty-four hours in order to see what was going to happen on the ground. It was during this period that the levees broke. Nice timing. There is also word that it took her five days to sign an order that would allow out-of-state doctors to treat patients in Louisiana.
And let's not forget about mayor Nagin. Democrat and former Cox Broadcasting executive.
The Drudge report showed a picture of a flooded parking lot containing over 150 school busses (that can be seen!). Why weren't these vehicles used to evacuate those who had no transportation of their own or ar least why were they not dispersed to higher ground where they might be used after the storm?
Now Hizzoner says the reason for not using the buses was because there were no drivers! 25,000 made it to the Super Dome and they couldn't find a few hundred people capable of driving school buses?
The Red Cross reported that truckloads of food, water and emergency supplies were refused at the Super Dome because the local officials deemed it to be a "temporary" shelter and they didn't want the evacuees to get too comfortable.
OK, that's enough blaming. After all, all the final blame will eventually be based on politics, so it's largely a waste of time.
In fact what we have seen in the whole Katrina episode is a titanic clash of bureaucracies.
American government at all levels has become so huge and complex that it has evolved into a series of hierarchical fiefdoms solely devoted to their own growth and self-preservation.
The Federal bureaucracies are the worst because they are the least accountable and most removed from the people they are supposed to serve. Notice I said "supposed to serve." In the real world, if a bureaucracy actually provides a good service, it is by accident. The service just happened to fall into the narrow confines of the rule book and so could be provided without risk or excessive expense.
The only real function of a bureaucracy at any level is to survive, to gather assets (manpower, treasure, influence, etc.) and to gain political power for its leaders. The idea that a bureaucracy will spontaneously do good is ludicrous.
Spending of resources on problem solving does nothing to further the goals of the bureaucracy. That is why we were treated to the spectacle of all the various agencies waiting for somebody else to make the first move. Then they could jump aboard and gather the maximum in credit while expending a minimum of resources. The state doesn't want Federal troops involved because that takes power away from the Governor. The local politicos want resources from upper levels of governments but only if they are funneled through local authorities.
The Feds want to take over wherever they show up and usually do because of the immense reach and wealth of Federal agencies.
And every one of these agencies has a built in batch of excuses ready to deflect any criticism. It's called "The Rule Book." and no bureaucracy can exist without one.
It's the single reason why bureaucracies are so hard to change. If a bureaucrat is criticized, he has only to go to the Book and find some rule that justifies whatever action he has taken. And the more mature the bureaucracy, the more complete and complex the Rule Book and the better able it is to cover the butts of its functionaries and protect them from harm, as long as they maintain fealty to the appropriate Rules.
In a bureaucracy, there is never an incentive to do the right thing, only to obey the rules. If you doubt the veracity of that statement, just go spend a day in any government office.
The only way around this mess would be to diminish bureaucracy in government and the whole structure mitigates against any such change. Besides, the politicians love the way bureaucracy works because in many cases they are the ones who write, or at least approve, the Rules and they know just how to manipulate the Rules to make themselves look good..
That's why the lessons of Hurricane Katrina will be obvious but will never be learned. Nor will the lessons of the next hurricane or flood or landslide or terrorist attack. Too many bureaucrats living with too much comfort and a total lack of accountability. That kind of organizational inertia is almost impossible to overcome.
Good luck to us all!