Federal, state, and local governments did not work well together to provide an effective response to Hurricane Katrina. Some of this failure can be attributed to the power struggle between the federal and state governments. The National Incident Management System (NIMS) was designed to foster collaboration among governments and their departments and agencies. However, this system largely failed. To overcome this failure, many have proposed centralizing disaster response in the federal government. Centralized control would damage the basic federal structure of our government as the national government appeals to the ever-present dangers of terrorism and natural disaster to gain permanent primacy in the relationship. The current federal system actually can work better than centralization if leadership and organizational transformation are stressed. The National Incident Management System has many elements in place that can make the federal system of disaster response work if the proper stress on organizational transformation and leadership is applied.
If we ignore the systemic issues and simply replace people or re-assign responsibilities, we may simply fail again in the not too distant future with a different cast of characters.
John R. Harrald, director of the Institute for Crisis, Disaster, and Risk Management,
George Washington University
U.S. House Committee on Government Reform hearing, September 15, 2005