Blame Game

Two weeks after Katrina, a little clarity is finally settling in about what went wrong in New Orleans between the feds, the state and the ...
by | September 12, 2005

Gov6_4 Two weeks after Katrina, a little clarity is finally settling in about what went wrong in New Orleans between the feds, the state and the locals. This Washington Post story is the best analysis I've seen yet. Long, but worth the read--if you want to get past the emotional outbursts, partisan sniping, and butt-covering that has characterized the spin cycle so far.

You might conclude from the Post's story that the only person who really does his job well was Max Mayfield, head of the National Hurricane Center. In the piece, Mayfield has the storm's track nailed more than two days in advance.

Louisiana Governor Kathleen Babineaux Blanco also emerges in a somewhat positive light. She declares a state of emergency on the Friday before the Monday that the storm hits. She seems to understand, perhaps better than Mayor Ray Nagin and President Bush, that this is the Big One. Her biggest fault may be that she's not specific enough in telling Bush how much federal help Louisiana needs. "We need everything you've got," she tells him. Perhaps she should have said, "We need 40,000 troops right now!"

Nagin comes out looking bad. He doesn't implement a disaster plan that envisions busing people who don't have cars out of the city. City officials also turn down an offer from Amtrak to roll several hundred people out of town on a train that's moving equipment out before the storm.

Bush, too, comes off as ambivalent. Not just because of his vacation or the Air Force One flyover. As water pours through the levees, Bush gives a speech in Arizona, noting that he's just spoken to Homeland Security Chief Michael Chertoff -- about immigration. Good fuel for the argument that FEMA has no place in the Homeland Security bureaucracy.

It's probably still too early to get a truly clear picture of the bureaucratic bungling. The response to Katrina deserves an investigation by an independent commission along the lines of the 9/11 commission. It may be the only way to find out how federalism failed in New Orleans -- and where, perhaps, it succeeded in ways that we haven't heard about yet.