President Bush said on Sunday that Congress ought to consider giving the US military the lead role in responding to natural disasters. Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA) doesn't like that idea. She told CNN's Late Edition that the military has a strong role to play "but so do our governors and our local elected officials."
"I mean we do have a democracy and a citizenship that has elected mayors, county commissioners and governors particularly. I'm not sure the governors association or all the mayors in America would be willing to step aside," she said.
Okay, let's stop and think this one through, Senator. You really don't want the governor's association and all the mayors in America to be the triage authority in times of disaster, do you? Katrina hit three states in one swoop and trod on many mayors' territory. So which mayor and governor -- or which association -- should have been in charge?
Look on the bright side, Senator. Putting the military in charge would also sideline FEMA and the Department of Homeland Security. Between those agencies and the local officials, the immediate wake of Katrina was everyone running around like chickens with their heads cut off.
And from all accounts there were life-costing turf battles in the wake of Katrina between FEMA, Blanco's office and Mayor Nagin's office (well, at least after the mayor's office was able to communicate with the outside world).
Days into the wake of Katrina's strike, the complaint voiced over and over by storm survivors, volunteers showing up to help and various federal personnel was that no one was in charge. In times of sudden crisis threatening the lives of millions of Americans, there needs to be one overarching authority making the critical decisions.
But I'll tell you why we're having this discussion, Senator Landrieu; it's because of the sorry situation US party politics has wrought. Truth is, it's come to the point where the US military is the only agency Americans can trust to put the welfare of all the citizenry first.
The big legal question is the exact conditions under which authority automatically passes to DoD. So this is a good time to read (or reread) Major Craig T. Trebilcock's Plain English explanation of the Posse Comitatus Act and why this sacred cow isn't sacred anymore: The Myth of Posse Comitatus
Also, a good time to plow through the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act published on the FEMA website.