For the past three years we’ve been told that our government is preparing for an attack on a major U.S. city. We have funneled billions of dollars into Homeland Security. We’ve appointed Homeland Czars and launched comprehensive initiatives for coordinating agency efforts. So what do we have to show for all of this? The answer is clear: very little!
To this day, many Federal Agencies eager to help contribute to Hurricane Katrina’s disaster relief have been stymied by an utter lack of federal coordination. The Department of Homeland Security has still not established a clear chain of command. They have not told the Department of Energy, Housing and Urban Development, Labor, Agriculture, or Transportation, what their specific agency’s mission is. Consequently, well-meaning Federal agencies are making good faith efforts to help, but lack the authority or the funding to accomplish their tasks. The problem is straightforward: the Department of Homeland Security has not assigned the other federal agencies a clear mission for rebuilding.
Now that we are moving beyond the emergency stage, it is essential that leaders provide the kind of vision that will help to focus efforts and inspire cooperation throughout the Federal Government. We need a Field General who can lay out the overall battle plan for rebuilding, competently assign tasks, and then empower individual Cabinet Secretaries, Mayors, Governors, and others to carry out their objectives.
This has not happened, in part, because so much of the leadership’s energy seems to have been absorbed into “spinning” former FEMA chief Michael Brown’s ineptness during the first few days of the disaster. Much, which can be blamed on the fact that Chertoff did not give him full necessary authority to rein over the disaster until it was too late. As New Orleans citizens were left abandoned amid floating corpses, with limited supplies of food and water, and as the city threatens to collapse into anarchy, Brown denied that a crisis had even occurred. Now Chertoff is hell-bent on pretending they didn’t drop the ball. What further complicates this situation is the obvious lack of leadership and confusion that is being caused by Governor Blanco and New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin. It is obvious by the critical layoff of over 3000 city employees by the Mayor in the name of cost cutting, that the Mayor is creating a crisis beyond his own imagination.
Hundreds of New Orleans citizens are still living in shelters. Most of them still cannot get straight answers about what help the government, state and federal officials will provide for them. This is disgraceful and downright depressing. Even individuals within FEMA often give conflicting messages about the benefits that victims are entitled to receive and what options that they have. This can only be described as a lack of leadership and vision.
Our senior leaders have offered some inspiring words, even some good ideas; but we need more. A city has nearly been wiped off the map. Hordes of gangs continue to stalk through the streets, preying on the weak. Whole lives have dissolved in an instant. This situation demands a coherent, national, state and local response. More to the point, it demands a clear vision, so that motivated and caring people throughout the Federal Government and throughout our various aid agencies, can begin working more effectively to help their neighbors and to rebuild the country.