A Big Storm requires Big Government: The Times editorial page is a bit shrill, but they do have a point. The federal government does have a crucial co-ordination role to play when organizing the response to big natural disasters that can overwhelm local resources. I look at FEMA as a cheap insurance policy. For about 13 billion dollars, FEMA coordinates disaster relief, trains local emergency response units, and funds the upgrade of equipment and infrastructure. For lower income states and communities (most in the south), this can make all the difference in a disaster. This was abundantly clear when Katrina hit.
The tacit belief that all civilian agencies within the federal government are inherently incompetent is ridiculous. There are fine, talented people working for the federal government, and it isn’t clear to me that privatizing those services would improve quality. Anyone who’s worked in a large company knows there’s ample waste and bureaucracy to be found there as well.
Contracting services out, doesn’t seem to do much except support a small group of large federal contractors. Most of these are large firms who’ve had defense businesses for a long time. It’s ironic that the largest of these (Halliburton/Brown & Root) was so closely connected to LBJ, and of all the post-war Democratic presidents, his legacy is what the right in the US has been trying to reverse ever since. One of the unintended consequences of business getting involved in politics.