In response to my post titled "Federalizing Everything," a commenter asked, "You are saying you don't mind federal involvement [in disaster management] but you don't want them to be the ones coordinating it?"
That is not quite correct, so I'll explain further. First, I believe that the federal government should take the lead role in protecting the nation against attacks by foreign forces and any homegrown forces that venture across state borders. That is a given. It is when we get into the area of natural disasters that the problems arise.
I definitely don't want the federal government implementing responses to natural disasters. There is absolutely no need for it. Coordination is the farthest I should like them to go, and even that much involvement is in fact unnecessary. There is nothing on earth stopping states from cooperating in relief efforts and in preparing for disasters before they happen. Numerous states sent help to the Gulf Coast in the wake of Katrina, and countless private relief efforts contributed as well. States can work out agreements with each other to handle cross-border environmental problems and disaster-relief scenarios. Certainly there will be disagreements at times among states regarding which should take responsibilty for what (meaning whose taxpayers will pay how much for it), but federal "coordination" only moves the argument further up the line and results in greater stasis and failure of coordination and implementation.
In fact, the very existence of a federal agency devoted to disaster management (FEMA), and the existence (and meddling) of other agencies such as the Army Corps of Engineers, has helped take the pressure off of state and local governments to make the investments necessary to ensure that they can handle natural disasters. Any failures will ultimately be blamed on the federal government, which is exactly what happened after Katrina.
That is an excellent example of the concept economists call moral hazard.
If the state of Louisiana and city of New Orleans, in particular, have elected governments so inept and negligent that they failed to prepare for a catastrophe that everyone has known for countless years would eventually arrive, that is a matter for the voters of Louisiana and New Orleans to deal with. It is not a matter that requires a huge stratum of federal mandates to be laid on people in Seattle, Iowa City, and Charlotte.
The state of Louisiana could have prepared for this. The city of New Orleans could have been ready to deal with the problem. But they weren't. So now, because of the stupidity and cupidity of two state and local goverments, we will all have to climb under an even greater yoke of federal-government management of our lives. That is not sound policy; it is idiocy.
States would undoubtedly prepare for potential problems more effectively without federal "guidance," and especially without a huge new federal bureaucracy and a crushing new layer of laws, regulations, commissions, and greatly increased taxes to finance it all.
All of this is entirely unnecessary, including any federal role in planning and coordination. The creation of a large federal bureaucracy to coordinate and implement disaster management is an unnecessary and counterproductive boondoggle.
The best course at this time would be to dissolve FEMA and other such agencies and send the authority and responsibility back to the states, where it belongs.