Saturday, September 03, 2005

14 Federal Agencies

My Wednesday post about Public Theologian's point that a small government conservatism would be wholly inadequate in a response to Hurricane Katrina has been one of the most commented posts in the history of Page 132. It has been highly intellectual and passionate with invocations of Alexander Hamilton, the Army Corp of Engineers and the sentiments of Jesus.

The discussion isn't happening just here. Blogosphere-famous Kevin Drum and Andrew Sullivan have engaged in a discussion of the role of modern conservatism in disaster management.

In the comments, Hefe and timothy both spanked me for "politicizing this event instead of being in transit to go help" All I can say is OF COURSE I'm interested in the political angle of this disaster. I didn't politicize the death and suffering, but rather the governmental philosophy surrounding the response. No one needs government when the world is all as it should be. It is disasters such as this are exactly the time when people rely upon the government. I still contend that small governmental conservatism isn't a viable political philosophy when faced with massive disasters and here is why...

I called the FEMA public affairs office in Washington, DC to find out exactly what the Federal Government was doing in the Hurricane Katrina disaster area. Press reports say 14 federal agencies are involved in responding to Katrina. A spokesperson there gave me 13 "lead organizations."

  • The Army Corp of Engineers - they are charged with the reconstruction of the broken levees in New Orleans and restoring much of the damage to the Gulf of Mexico coastline.
  • The Department of Transportation was sending trucks carrying water, tarpaulins, and even mobile homes and forklifts.
  • The United States Public Health Service was activated and sent dozens of officers to supervise medical response for both those already receiving treatment and to ensure that outbreaks (like cholera) are identified immediately and halted.
  • The Federal Aviation Administration is charged with opening airports in the region so that planes can bring in supplies
  • The Environmental Protection Agency is in charge of overseeing the clean-up of the flooded petro-chemical plants and flooded sewer systems.
  • The US Forest Service receives commodities and materials at USFS staging areas. They also have their own Incident Response Team
  • The US Air Force has been involved in search and rescue operations, delivering aid and repairing breaks in the levees in New Orleans
  • The National Communication Systems is charged with restoring comminication infrastructre and facilitating communication between the different agencies involved.
  • The General Services Administration must find and lease space for the homeless, materials and food.
  • FEMA is both coordinating all these agencies, but also has its own urban search and rescue operations.
  • The Department of Agriculture is obtaining food and shipping it to Red Cross volunteers
  • The Department of Energy is working on restoring power grids and helping local utilities
  • The Coast Guard is working round the clock on search and rescue in the urban and coastal areas

Finally, FEMA is coordinating with the Red Cross to ensure they can do their job working with survivors.

Notice some of those on the agencies on the list. Many of them would be closed under Grover Norquists' plan to shrink government so small it could drown in a bathtub - EPA, USFS, Agriculture, FEMA, Energy would all be gone or privatized. No private corporation could possibly do this job! Could you imagine Bechtel, Halliburton or Coca-Cola trying to round up enough people in all these locations with all these skills to do all these jobs? It wouldn't or couldn't happen. They don't have the resources nor could they rally the American people. Would churches all over the South throw open their doors for the newly homeless if Bechtel asked? Would Americans donate millions of dollars at the request of Halliburton? Would more than 44 foreign governments and international organisations have offered aid to help if Coca-Cola pleaded?

Massive disasters like this call for a united governmental response and only a sufficiently large enough government can do that.