The optimist in me would like to believe that we learn from our tragedies. However, it is a struggle to keep this optimism from being trumped by a healthy pessimism that comes from watching day-to-day events in Washington.
What, after all, should we be walking away from the Katrina tragedy with other than a deep skepticism about government? Yet we're just hearing more about getting government more involved.
Lt. General Carl Strock, chief of engineers of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, reconfirmed recently that the risk that New Orleans was exposed to as result of the limited flood protection capabilities of its levees had been known and written about for years. As recently as 2001, FEMA listed a major storm in New Orleans among the top three most serious threats facing the country.
Yet investigations going back at least 10 years show a combination of both cutbacks in federal funding that could have been available to do improvements and that show local authorities not utilizing federal funds that were available to do the required upgrading work.
And when the disaster finally happened plans in place for dealing with it were ignored. Government and politicians failed at every possible juncture to act in a prudent and responsible fashion.
Now that we have the mess to clean up, for some reason we think that turning back to government is the answer.
Hundreds of millions of dollars are now being spent daily on Katrina-related contracts and grants and reports of fraud and abuse are already flowing.
The Hurricane Katrina Fraud Task force is now being set up in Baton Rouge, already staffed with 350 federal investigators and another 170 investigators expected to join them in coming weeks.
The message is clear. The only way to solve problems and minimize funding abuses is to minimize government involvement.
When the news of Katrina first broke, I wrote about my cousins from New Orleans who lost everything. Since then, they have moved to North Carolina and are building new lives for themselves. They are working for the same telemarketing firm that they worked for in New Orleans. A local church provided them temporary housing while they got resettled and is providing day care for their youngest child. The two oldest children are back in school, the parents are back at work and a new chapter in their life has begun.
They had the foresight to have purchased renters insurance; now they have funds to make their first home purchase.
The only government involvement in the whole process was the $2,000 check from FEMA.