Friday, May 28, 2010

Oil, Hurricanes and the Feds - Oh My

Here we sit well over a month after the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded and oil began gushing into the Gulf of Mexico. And we are hearing an all too familiar refrain.

"What took so long?"

In this case, the slow and tepid response by the federal government is just amazing - and not in a good way. The decision to leave BP in charge for as long as they have is baffling, considering that BP has been dishonest from the start. The constant blind acceptance of whatever Hayward and his trained liars from BP said is angering. Overall, thus far, the federal government appears to have failed at almost every level.

While it is true that BP possesses the technology and equipment to stop the leak, the US government has the capacity and manpower to deal with the growing ecological, economic and human disaster playing out along the shoreline. Yet, for some unknowable reason, that was left to BP as well.

Obama claims they have been in charge from day one, while almost all of his people say the opposite. Salazar over at Interior talks about having BP by the throat. Yeah, Hayward looks really worried about that whole throat thing. Napolitano is a disaster just standing there. She has allowed the Coast Guard to lapse into a bureaucratic morass as part of Homeland Security.

In a largely unnoticed miscue by the administration, FEMA chief Craig Fugate was not even on scene. He was happily piddling away at a fairly pointless hurricane forecast conference. So why was he not in Louisiana? And why was this not a top question for the media to ask? More on Fugate below.

Bottom line on the spill is that the administration has not done a good job thus far. It is that simple. But it is not a new problem. In fact, federal response to disasters is almost always poor at best.

I live in South Florida. We know natural disasters. We call them hurricanes and they come often. Hurricane Andrew came through and pretty much wiped out a huge swath of Miami. The federal response was slow and not all that good at first. In fact, it took a local official yelling at the national media about where the cavalry was to get them moving. Local/state response and action was the real mover and fixer. The feds were late to the party and ended up following state directed efforts.

9/11 was as close the feds ever got to a good job, and even there it was the NYPD and NYFD that really stepped up. Again the feds came in and ultimately ended up following the local authorities' lead. It was only the nature of 9/11 - an enemy terrorist attack on America - that mobilized the feds quickly.

Hurricane Katrina is by now a legend among emergency managers. Setting aside the multi-level failure in New Orleans, look at Mississippi. They waited for the feds to step in. But only so long and then they took it upon themselves at the state level. The recovery of Biloxi is a testament to great local and state government and should be in a textbook.

New Orleans? Well, that is a story often told and I don't need to repeat it. We all know what happened and did not happen. The only thing I add to that is that Michael Brown got the shaft there. the record shows that he was on top of the disaster, but the bureaucratic morass at Homeland Security stopped his efforts cold. There is a big time lesson about big government there.

Florida. 9 major hurricanes in a 14 month period ending with Wilma, which visited a level of damage and destruction that was spread over the entire Southern half of the peninsula. This was after Dennis and Katrina hit us that same year. We already knew not to wait for or count on the feds. And Florida recovered quickly and stands ready for this year's storm season.

This is where I am amazed at Fugate's choice of the hurricane conference over the actual real disaster. See, it was Fugate and then governor Jeb Bush that got this state through. Not FEMA. Not the feds in any way. Oh sure, they came along and helped, but we did not wait for them. We knew the federal government is not good at this stuff. It is too big, too cumbersome, too rule bound, way too political and too bureaucratic to be effective at anything, let alone emergency relief. We knew they were not going to swoop in.

And they are still incapable of doing so. The Gulf oil spill proves it yet again. This one unfolded in slow motion compared to hurricanes and such, yet the feds were still slow off the mark and way too bureaucratic and political to be effective.

It has always somewhat amazed me that the media can get in and be broadcasting live from a disaster zone before the first FEMA person is there. Maybe the feds need to ask the networks how they do that. Wait, it is easy. They have one person that says, "Take 2 camera crews, get on a plane. I want you there by 6PM." Decision made, action starts.

The feds on the other hand first hold meetings and discussions. Managers for this crisis are appointed. Memos work their way up and down the government food chain.

A better model to follow would be to simply hand control over to the local authorities. They are already there. They probably know better what has to be done and who should do it. Give them the resources and let them go to work instead of the ludicrous exercise in bureaucratic butt covering that happens at the federal level.

I am fond of saying that I believe the National Hurricane Center on storm tracks. Why? Because they live here, too. Their homes and families are just like mine. Can't say that for Salazar or Napolitano or Obama. They are removed from the disaster by distance and staff. Not their families. Not their homes.

Overall, the grade on the federal handling of the Gulf oil spill is a big fat zero. No improvement over other disasters and no lessons learned. Sad. Because they just make it worse for those who are living it. For the record, this is a bipartisan failure. Republican and Democratic administrations are bad at this.

All I can close with is a hope and a prayer that the leak finally gets stopped and that those good folks on the Gulf Coast in Louisiana get some help and relief.

No comments:

Post a Comment