- The Washington Times - Monday, September 5, 2005

It is too early to know what the lessons learned will be months from now, coming out of the inevitable Katrina Commission Report as well as the internal lessons learned studies that will be carried out within all the relevant federal bureaucracies perhaps some state and municipal agency studies as well.

But it is not too soon to see where politicians will be focusing their “contributions” to the learning process — which will be in the form of a biblical deluge of finger-pointing. The White House, the Louisiana State House and the mayor’s office have already engaged in this digital duel.

It will, undoubtedly, turn out to be the case when more is understood of the unfolding events that many agencies and officials will have been weighed in the balance and — to some extent — found wanting. For some the shortcomings will be mild; others, we are confident, will be revealed to have displayed stunning, career-ending incompetence. We must await the unambiguous evidence.

But after the deaths, the tears, the clean up and reconstruction, the political and bureaucratic careers ended, the big question will be how to better organize such efforts in the future.

Central to a reorganizing of future relief efforts will be a political debate that has cascaded down American history since Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson: Do we want a big strong federal government taking charge or do we want to rely on a proudly independent state and local sovereignty (with the feds coming in only to supplement state efforts)? That is to say: federalist or anti-federalist?

Did President Bush have authority under the Insurrection Act to overrule Louisiana’s governor and take charge or not? Does the Posse Comitatus Act permit the active army to shoot looters?

The argument for the federal government in the future to fully take the lead is seductive after recent events have revealed legal arguments between federal, state and local officials causing delay confusion and, we dont doubt, avoidable deaths and misery.

But with such advantages comes the obvious and traditional counter-arguments. If the federal government is to be in charge, then it would have to have authority to order evacuations before the fact, take control of state and local assets to affect such effort, such as roads, police, fire and infrastructure. (For example, Louisiana got its fair share of post-September 11 first-responder federal money. Under current law, how effectively they spent it was up too them, not the federal government.)

In short, an efficient federal lead would require converting our sovereign states into administrative subdivisions of the national government.

While we dont doubt that better planning, better interagency work and better management (particularly at FEMA) in the future will be both necessary and valuable, we doubt Americans are prepared to strip the states of their sovereign powers to the extent necessary to give any president the full powers he needs to lead in emergencies from start to finish.

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