Most bad public policy comes not from nefarious actors but from well-meaning bureaucrats.
In short, the swamp is filled with alligators that are bumbling, short-sighted or wedded to process. They aren’t necessarily evil.
This view of human nature might be charitable, but it doesn’t necessarily solve the problems that real people encounter from time to time. This is where elected officials are able to step in and inject some reasonableness into the arbitrary diktats of government.
Members of Missouri’s congressional delegation are attempting to fulfill this role as purveyor of common sense in the face of bureaucratic intransigence. Both U.S. senators and all eight representatives — Democrats and Republicans — sent a joint letter requesting clarification on how the Federal Emergency Management Agency determined disaster declarations for Missouri counties that were flooded this spring.
The letter to FEMA’s acting administrator, Peter Gaynor, makes for fascinating reading in the way that polite prose is sometimes used to provide a certain veneer to pointed questioning. “We write to respectfully inquire about the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s implementation of Section 1232 of the Disaster Recovery Reform Act. ...”
What they really mean is, “What on earth were you thinking?”
The sad reality of this year’s flooding is that it wasn’t just an act of nature. On the front end, management of the Missouri River enhanced the risk and made it far worse for farmers, property owners and communities along the river. That requires a different letter to a different government agency.
But after the flood, those who needed to rebuild experienced uneven or puzzling decisions from the government agency in charge of disaster recovery. At one point, individual assistance was denied for one application that covered four Northwest Missouri counties.
Then FEMA administered separate disaster declarations that covered different periods in time. This created a bizarre no-coverage gap for some Northwest Missourians whose homes, businesses and farms happened to be swamped, but at a time when the flood existed in reality but wasn’t recognized on paper.
Our elected lawmakers, in kindly asking FEMA “What is the mechanism used to administer this guidance?” are right to press this matter on behalf of constituents who must be both befuddled and angered.
It would be interesting to hear FEMA’s response on this one. If those in Congress don’t like the answer, they could be forgiven for dropping the flowery language and adopting some of the sharper wording that their constituents surely uttered after learning that hip-deep water doesn’t always qualify as a flood.