Most Americans have never heard of the National Response Coordination Center, but they’re lucky it exists on days of lethal winds and flood tides. The center is the war room of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, where officials gather to decide where rescuers should go, where drinking water should be shipped, and how to assist hospitals that have to evacuate.

Disaster coordination is one of the most vital functions of “big government,” which is why Mitt Romney wants to eliminate it. At a Republican primary debate last year, Mr. Romney was asked whether emergency management was a function that should be returned to the states. He not only agreed, he went further.

“Absolutely,” he said. “Every time you have an occasion to take something from the federal government and send it back to the states, that’s the right direction. And if you can go even further and send it back to the private sector, that’s even better.” Mr. Romney not only believes that states acting independently can handle the response to a vast East Coast storm better than Washington, but that profit-making companies can do an even better job. He said it was “immoral” for the federal government to do all these things if it means increasing the debt.

It’s an absurd notion, but it’s fully in line with decades of Republican resistance to federal emergency planning. FEMA, created by President Jimmy Carter, was elevated to cabinet rank in the Bill Clinton administration, but was then demoted by President George W. Bush, who neglected it, subsumed it into the Department of Homeland Security, and placed it in the control of political hacks. The disaster of Hurricane Katrina was just waiting to happen.



1 reply
  1. Charles Payne says:

    The New York Times assumes the National Response Coordination Center nestled in Washington DC has a better vantage point to make key decisions on where to deploy assets than governors and other local officials. It’s just plain nuts.

    We just witnessed swift and decisive action by Governor Christy and Cuomo as well as others along the eastern seaboard. They drive local roads, remember flooding disasters from the time they were children and employ people that can tell you where the next pothole will be created before it happens.

    Of course governors ask for financial help and equipment, but it’s only their own money coming back to where it probably shouldn’t have ever left. Of course by snatching these funds as taxes and then redistributing them back to states further empowers the federal government and gives it even more power. (The same for other things like education which should be a local issue not dictated from Mount White House and its grand schemes.) During an emergency and in the aftermath any centralized leadership has to be local.

    A hospital was evacuated in New York in the middle of Hurricane Sandy and I didn’t see the federal government there.

    On the flip side I think the notion the federal government will swoop into action leaves some local governments paralyzed and many citizens waiting instead of taking action. Two years after Katrina when candidate Obama was suggesting FEMA ignored the pleas of black people in New Orleans the Vietnamese community there was asking FEMA to remove trailers off land in its neighborhood so they could build.

    I think the most telling reaction to Hurricane Sandy was President Obama saying red tape would be cut or waived in order to get things done. Sadly, when it’s not an election year or week, which tape will not be waived, in fact could become more onerous. The big bloated federal government with so many chiefs never takes a backseat to the guys on the ground, the guys with the best lay of the land, the guys that need to be in charge. There could be a role for a FEMA but not centralized control of giant swatches of local municipalities.

    As long as citizens in states pump so much money into the federal coffers there should be a way to retrieve some back. That money should come back and be controlled by governors not National Response Coordination Center.
    Charles Payne

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