Tuesday, September 06, 2005

More Bureacracy, Please!

President Bush is leading the charge. The same one Ronald Reagan led in the 80s, that Newt Gingrich led in the 90s, and that Tom DeLay has been planning since he was 14 years old. The charge to eliminate bureacracy.

"Bureaucracy is not going to stand in the way of getting the job done for the people,"
President Bush, quoted in the Wall Street Journal
He's not alone. The president of Jefferson Parish, near New Olreans is ready for bureacracy to get whacked too:
Bureaucracy has murdered people in the greater New Orleans area. And bureaucracy needs to stand trial before Congress today.

He also said this,

"So I'm asking Congress, please investigate this now. Take whatever idiot they have at the top of whatever agency and give me a better idiot. Give me a caring idiot. Give me a sensitive idiot. Just don't give me the same idiot."
We're starting to see it: the differneces between business and government. In business, most of the risks are things that can be identified, and planned for, if not entirely ensured away: you're dealing with capital and cash, and that's about it--it's called a bottom line. It's easy. Not that it isn't difficult, but it's uncomplicated. Single goal. More money.

Government doesn't work that way. There's lots of goals. And tradeoffs. And unforeseen problems. And there isn't one bottom line. There's a bunch. But the most significant is measured in human lives. In good times, it's measured in how much better off are those human's lives. In bad times, like right now on the Gulf Coast, the bottom line is measured in how many of those humans still have lives?

And many times bureacracies get in the way. They slow down the implementation of projects. Nonsensical internal rules make it harder, instead of easier, for people to get the help they need (to pull themselves up by their bootstraps). While I'm not ruling out this as a possible part of what went wrong with planning and implementation for post-Katrina, there's a more fundamental problem.

Not enough Bureacracy.

That's right. FEMA needed MORE bureacrats to get the job done, not less. Last year, FEMA lost something like 600 full-time equivalent positions because of funding shifts. They were also reorganized to spend more of their time planning for terrorist attacks and response, and less time on natural disasters.

It's moments like this when we see that a certain amount of "government waste" can be good.
Here's my logic.
The government decided it needed to save some money--it's our money as taxpayers, right? So we should keep it? So 600 jobs were cut. I don't know how much those people earned for their jobs, nor do I know how much it costs to provide office-space, etc. for them. But I'll estimate that all-together, between salary, benefits, and other expenses, the government would have spent $100,000 a year on those people.

This means FEMA's budget would have been $65 million more this year than it is today. Now, according to House Resolution 3645 (Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Act to Meet Immediate Needs Arising From the Consequences of Hurricane Katrina, 2005) congress just authorized $10 billion in funding to assist with disaster relief in the South.

The cost for an extra 600 people working on natural disasters at FEMA would have come to .65% of the total new appropriation. That is less than 1%. It's not clear how much those extra 600 people could have done to decrease the physical destruction of the city, but they could have done a lot to ensure that the loss of life wasn't nearly as bad.

How? By coordinating with state and local officials for evacuation plans: how many people need to get out? How can they get out? where can they go? How many hospital beds would be needed? Where would the supplies come from? How would they get there? All items for bureacrats to figure out. BEFORE the disaster. Not during. Not after. BEFORE.

Maybe if there was a little more bureacracy on the front end of disaster planning, there would be less news about them afterward, and perhaps fewer lawyers called in to "investigate" what went wrong.

Oh, and maybe fewer people would have died.

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