City of New Orleans — still a disaster from a public administration perspective


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As we all knew shortly after Hurricane Katrina (2005), the lack of local government capacity and capabilities regarding emergency management was one key contributor to the terrible response and recovery efforts after that event.  To be fair, state and federal governments, as well as the Red Cross, also displayed major failures.  Nevertheless, all of those agencies and organizations depend on a functioning local government in order to fulfill their roles and responsibilities efficiently and effectively.

What seems surprising now, more than 5 years later, is that the local government’s capacity is still seriously deficient. Mayor Nagan, who served two terms in office, left this legacy. The new mayor has initiated the review and hopefully will implement needed changes.  See: New Orleans City Hall dysfunction leaves specialist ‘shocked’, March 4, 2011, Times-Picayune.

Calling New Orleans city government the most dysfunctional he’s ever seen, a leading turnaround specialist delivered a report to Mayor Mitch Landrieu this week identifying a long list of problems at City Hall, as well as a 10-point plan on how to right the ship.  Staffing shortages and senseless red tape are among the problems at New Orleans City Hall identified by the consultant.

Since taking office in May, Landrieu has identified many of the problems outlined by consultant David Osborne, including decades-old computer systems, civil service rules that beget mediocrity, senseless red tape and staffing shortages dating to Hurricane Katrina.

Osborne, who has advised dozens of cities on streamlining efforts, said Thursday that New Orleans faces myriad, deep-seated problems, the likes of which he has never encountered. “I was kind of shocked,” said Osborne, who served as a senior adviser to then-Vice President Al Gore’s National Performance Review initiative. “I think they inherited the least competent city government I’d ever seen in this country and the most corrupt — a really tough experience. I just haven’t run into this level of dysfunction before, and I’ve been doing this work for almost 25 years.”

Chief Administrative Officer Andy Kopplin said the administration concurs with the findings and has embraced the remedies advocated by the Massachusetts-based Public Strategies Group.

I cannot imagine any other city vying for that description!

Post-Katrina: reconstruction of housing units in MS

For five years,  disputes have been pending about rebuilding housing for low-income residents who lost their homes due to Hurricane Katrina. Recently, the matter was settled; and perhaps that settlement will be helpful in the aftermath of future disasters in the U.S.  Katrina Victims in Mississippi Get More Aid. NY Times, Nov. 16.

Federal and state officials and housing advocates announced on Monday the creation of a $133 million program to address housing problems that remain for poor Mississippi residents five years after Hurricane Katrina.

The announcement comes after months of negotiations by officials from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Mississippi governor’s office and housing advocates on the coast, and could bring to a close a long-running dispute about the state’s spending of federal grant money after the hurricane.

It seems that both parties had to change their positions to resolve this dispute equitably. Hopefully, in the future it will not take five years for residents to know what their living arrangements will be, after a major disaster.

Residential Insurance against disasters in the U.S. – major reforms needed

Winds of Hurricane Katrina

Image by NASA Goddard Photo and Video via Flickr

Residential Insurance on the U.S. Gulf Coast in the Aftermath of Hurricane Katrina: A Framework for Evaluating Potential Reforms, by McDonald et al. (20 pp.) RAND report, Oct. 2010.  Interesting report on a topic not often discussed.  To quote the report:

Until an improved system for mitigating and insuring hurricane risk is developed, storms will continue to cause record-setting losses to life and property, ever-increasing federal disaster relief, and major economic disruption in the Atlantic and Gulf Coast States.

Those sound like compelling reasons to act to me.

More on Recovery in Louisiana since H. Katrina

The advantage of writing a blog is that I have great literary license. Here goes a review of three different pieces on recovery in LA from Hurricane Katrina: two items are recently- issued research articles and one is a movie review.

(1) Recovery or Resilience Along the Gulf Coast. Public Manager magazine, Sept. 2010. See pages 24-49 for a set of articles about H. Katrina Recovery, mostly written by well-known public administration academics. The most unusual article — very bold and direct – is the article (p.38) titled The Ethinomics of  Leaking Louisiana. It describes aspects of the local culture and the endemic corruption that have interfered with an efficient and effective recovery.

(2) In the current issue of Public Administration Review ( Sept./Oct 2010) is an article titled Retrospectives and Prospectives on Hurricane Katrina: Five Years and Counting, and the authors are Louise Comfort, Thomas Birkland, Beverly Cigler, and Earthea Nance.  I am in agreement with some and disagreement with other parts of this article, but it is worth reading. It is only available to subscribers, so I cannot provide a copy here without violating the copyright. (Contact me offline if you have trouble obtaining it.)

(3) A recent  New Yorker magazine, August 30, has a review of Spike Lee’s new movie about New Orleans five years after Katrine: the article is “Unnatural Disasters” and the title of the movie is “If God is Willing and da Creek Don’t Rise.”  The reviewer concludes:

Over all, you’re left thinking that New Orleans is a city that goes in circles, with its own rules and mysteries and unyielding contradictions, none of them plumbable by outsiders. You finish watching “If God Is Willing” not knowing where New Orleans, for better or worse, will never be the same or will be the same as it always was.

My take from all of this is we must learn to do a better job on recovery in this country and soon – we need to do it smarter, faster, and cheaper than we did in NOLA.  Otherwise, the future looks bleak.


New Report – Urgent Recommendations re Gulf Coast Resilience

States that border the Gulf of Mexico are show...

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Before the Next Katrina: Urgent Recommendations for the President & Congress on Gulf  Coast Resilience; Center for National Policy, August 27. In a compelling new report, authors Steve Flynn and Sean Burke address a few new problems, namely, the likelihood of a major hurricane affecting the same Gulf Coast area impacted by the B.P. Oil Spill and how to clarify, coordinate, and reconcile the two federal response systems that pertain.  The Oil Spill response and now the recovery process are proceeding under the authority of the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, but a major hurricane is likely to get a Presidential declaration under the Stafford Act.  The authors do an excellent job identifying problem areas and issues that should be address before another big hurricane reaches the Gulf Coast this season, which could be quite soon. See this C-SPAN interview.

Senators Lieberman, Collins, and Landrieu on 5th Anniversary of Katrina


In their press release, the senators note progress, but hit on the unfinished National Disaster Recovery Framework.

Lieberman said, “FEMA has made tremendous progress since 2005 and is evolving into a competent, professional emergency management organization. I, along with Senators Collins and Landrieu, have pressed FEMA to continue moving forward to ensure that our nation is capable of helping survivors recover from disasters. FEMA must improve its preparedness to assist in future recoveries after a large-scale disaster.  For example, it has yet to complete the National Disaster Recovery Framework, which is essential to providing the kinds of support for recovery our citizens need and deserve. “

The simple fact is that the distress that continues to plague many displaced Gulf Coast families—from causes both natural and man-made–spotlights the imperative to have world-class recovery systems in place so that government, on all levels, as well as individual citizens, are ready to help their communities recover from catastrophic disaster. FEMA and DHS must continue to be leaders in this effort and build on the progress made since 2005.

Resilience in New Orleans

There are so many articles about the Katrina anniversary, it is hard to know which to pay attention to.  Two articles dealing with long-term aspects and resilience in particular are as follows: We’re still not ready for another Hurricane Katrina; by Stephen Flynn, Washington Post, August 29.

With local communities having exhausted their ability to bounce back, the problems with our country’s approach to managing disasters loom especially large. Three are most serious: continued uncertainty in the gulf region about how the federal government would organize to support it after a storm; confusion about how or whether insurance companies would pay claims; and signs that stepped-up evacuation preparedness has not been matched with planning to quickly return people to their communities.

We tend to think of resilience as something achieved or not, but this article indicates that various degrees of resilience may exist just in one block of one neighborhood.  That suggests to me that measuring resilience for a community is going to be a hard job. On One Block, Resilience and Despair, Jourdan Avenue’s Uneven Recovery Reflects New Orleans as a Work in Progress; Finally Back at Home—but No Hot Water August 28, WSJ.

Hurricane Katrina — 5 Year Retrospective

Since this is the week of the 5th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, and her sisters Rita and Wilma, several news sources have produced special articles.  A useful listing of some of the most significant ones can be found on the website of the Homeland Security Digital Library, see Hurricane Katrina, 5 Years Later.

The first-mentioned report,  by Chris Kromm and Sue Sturgis, September 2010, Institute for Southern Studies, provides a useful description of the recovery process.  See LEARNING FROM KATRINA, Lessons from Five Years of Recovery and Renewal in the Gulf Coast.I would liked to have seen more recommendations to the federal government regarding needed changes in their approach to and framework for long-term recovery.

Hurricane Katrina and the Oil Spill — comments in the news

Here are two more takes on New Orleans five years after H. Katrina. Lessons in Resilience from New Orleans, Andrew Revkin’s blog of August 13, citing geographer Bob Kates and NOLA on Hurricane Katrina.

Turning to the aftermath of the oil spill disaster, see The Coast Is Not Clear; Business Week, August 12. The author notes:

Though the BP oil spill’s impact is much less severe than feared, long-term threats remain: wetlands destruction, dead zones, and climate change. They make the spill look almost minor .

Hurricane Katrina – 5th anniversary

Since the 5th anniversary will occur at the end of this month, several organizations have been reviewing the events and accomplishments.  The Brookings Institution has issued a series of reports on what has been learned since  Sept. of 2005; the listing of all reports is on the page titled The New Orleans Index at Five.

Their  overview paper (20 pp) is subtitled From Recovery to Transformation, is a very thoughtful report that provides a excellent discussion of the key elements of recovery.