Friday, September 09, 2005

Blame game

Belle Waring dishes out the blame rather fairly.

Coordination is a big mystery to me. Corporations and other entities seem grossly inefficient, from what I've seen, and it's amaziing that the work of an industrial society gets done at all. We take it for granted most of the time that all these huge agglomerations of people will succeed in providing each other with food and cell phones and roads and such. The machine staggers, takes wrong turns, screws people over, but it seems to work for some definition of work.

Until it doesn't.

Put aside questions of individual incompetence as described in the linked posting. What were the organizational failures? Read this article in the NYT. Instead of action, we see bureaucrats sitting around in meetings trying to figure out who is responsible for what, who should be in control, what the rules are, who is supposd to communicate with whom. This is extremely typical behavior for dysfunctional and semi-functional organizations.

As criticism of the response to Hurricane Katrina has mounted, one of the most pointed questions has been why more troops were not available more quickly to restore order and offer aid. Interviews with officials in Washington and Louisiana show that as the situation grew worse, they were wrangling with questions of federal/state authority, weighing the realities of military logistics and perhaps talking past each other in the crisis.
Then there is the almost comic:

"I need everything you have got," Ms. Blanco said she told Mr. Bush last Monday, after the storm hit.

In an interview, she acknowledged that she did not specify what sorts of soldiers. "Nobody told me that I had to request that," Ms. Blanco said. "I thought that I had requested everything they had. We were living in a war zone by then."

So, essentially the army was held up because the governor failed to fill out the right form, nobody told her what form to fill out, and for some reason she couldn't establish communication to figure out what needed to be done. People dying because of red tape.

So, let the heads roll as Belle suggests, it will make people feel better. But the real culprit is the extremely dysfunctional system of bureaucratic organization, laced with toxic politics.

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