Scott Tibbs
blog post
September 15th, 2005

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FEMA and Hurricane Katrina

There is a lot of finger-pointing going on about the response to Hurricane Katrina by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the city government of New Orleans and the state government of Louisiana. Republicans are pointing at the Democrat-controlled city and state governments while Democrats are blaming the Bush administration. There's plenty of blame at the local and state levels, but I think Republicans are making a mistake by defending FEMA.

FEMA is a big, bloated federal bureaucracy and it displayed incompetence during this disaster. A small example of this is how the FEMA web site was set up so it could be viewed with Internet explorer only. This means people who own computers without the Windows operating system (such as Macintosh or Linux users) could not view the web site at all. Windows users who prefer Firefox or Netscape had to switch back to IE for that site.

Beyond the common sense notion that a federal government web site should be as universally accessible as possible, it is amusing that the very same federal government that prosecuted Microsoft for anti-trust violations was helping Microsoft maintain dominance of the web browser market.

President George W. Bush recognizes FEMA's incompetence and is taking steps to correct what is wrong at FEMA.

Is President Bush himself to blame for the problems at FEMA? I don't think so. The President (no matter who he is) does not and cannot oversee and manage the operations of the federal government.

It is stupid to claim that aid was not dispatched because of racism against black people stranded by the hurricane. That does not even need to be refuted because it is so obviously false. What is unfortunate is that immoral people are trying to inflame racial tensions to score cheap political points. What is more unfortunate is that the race-baiting by those immoral people over the years has made people actually believe such garbage.

While many are complaining about casting blame for what went wrong, I do not think this "finger-pointing" in and of itself is inappropriate. When there is such an obvious failure, those in charge of responding to disasters need to be held accountable for their failures. Furthermore, it is extremely important to recognize where emergency response systems failed so they can be fixed.

Trying to find out what went wrong so it can be fixed, however, is a far cry from exploiting a natural disaster for political ends. Both Republicans and Democrats have politicized this disaster. While in my opinion Democrats have been more guilty of this, both sides should be ashamed of trying to exploit a tragedy to score cheap political points.