- The Washington Times - Friday, March 14, 2008

New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin wants to see more presidential attention to Katrina recovery. He wants more attention from the hopefuls. In Washington this week, the Democrat Mr. Nagin labeled Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, neither of whom he has endorsed, “hesitant to tackle issues” in Gulf Coast recovery. He also awarded President Bush a mediocre “C” for his own recovery efforts. This is canny, since it declines the gratuitous insult which many in the Gulf Coast would have preferred while also leaving plenty of room for the administration to boost those budgets. Mr. Nagin’s case boils down to a plea for more assistance, and another plea for less bureaucracy.

His best argument is the one the hopefuls would do well to adopt: Cut and reform the bureaucracy. Merely hearing the story of what is still shockingly inept government handling of recovery funds and programs makes the case for itself. It rests on the mere delivery of promised money, equipment and personnel in a timely and resource-wise manner. A sample of bungled Katrina recovery efforts to surface in recent months include:

• Much of the federally funded recovery effort at the municipal level is held up because the monies are granted only on a reimbursable basis. Local government can muster only so much financing at one time. Layers of federal oversight compound the problem, slowing distribution. Mr. Nagin complains that “hundreds of millions of dollars” are held up for this reason.

• Toxic trailers. Unhealthy levels of the suspected carcinogen formaldehyde were discovered inside a random sampling of Federal Emergency Management Agency trailers by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in December and January. Approximately 38,000 people still occupy FEMA trailers. FEMA Administrator R. David Paulison announced plans to relocate all residents with priority for the elderly and infirm, but the process will not be complete until summer.

• Failing prisons. Despite the logic and reason for so doing, and despite a troublingly high murder rate, no new jail has been built for New Orleans nor has the severely damaged existing one been fixed.

Happily, cutting bureaucracy is not only a clear humanitarian imperative but a political winner. It would fulfill the promises President Bush and Congress made to rebuild which they have delivered upon unevenly. Mr. Bush could do much worse than to spend his remaining months in office finishing well on this vital need and the hopefuls should give real evidence of commitment to buttress their promises in New Orleans campaign appearances.

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