According to Chris Edwards, the director of tax policy studies at Cato Institute, the federal government is involving itself too much in the business of disaster recovery. Edwards writes that local authorities, along with the private sector, are in a better position to take lead roles in disaster recovery. Too much federal intervention could actually slow down the process of helping those affected by a disaster. He concludes:
As for disaster response, federal involvement is appropriate when agencies have unique capabilities to offer, such as the Coast Guard’s search and rescue capabilities. But it is mainly state, local, and private entities that own the needed resources and are on the scene to assist in emergencies. The states, for example, employ 1.3 million people in police and fire departments. As for the private sector, the 9/11 Commission report noted, “85 percent of our nation’s critical infrastructure is controlled not by governments but by the private sector, [so] private-sector civilians are likely to be the first responders in any future catastrophes.”
When the states need additional resources after a disaster, they can and do rely on help from other states under mutual aid agreements. Similarly, electric utilities have longstanding agreements with each other to share resources when disaster strikes. Such horizontal support makes more sense than top-down interventions from Washington.
Federal intervention can impede disaster response and rebuilding because of the extra paperwork involved and the added complexity of decisionmaking. A growing federal role may also induce states to neglect their own disaster preparedness because officials assume Uncle Sam will bail them out when disaster hits.
Growing federal intervention has been sadly crowding out state, local, and private roles in handling natural disasters. We should reverse course and only task the federal government with those roles that are unique and truly beyond the capabilities of other entities in society.
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