An old trick of governments at all levels is to respond to the prospect of spending cuts by announcing that they will lay off teachers and firefighters first. By targeting the most essential services, they try to assure that public outcry will keep the tax dollars flowing.
More broadly, though, there is no reason to believe that federal disaster-relief programs are immune from the same bureaucratic waste and inefficiency that beset other government programs.
Nor has federal disaster aid been immune from politics ..
Over the decades, the number of federal disaster declarations—which can cover everything from minor events in a town to major storms affecting many states—has been rising ..
After all, much of the federal government's relief efforts simply amount to shifting funds from one part of the country to another and back again. Yesterday New York paid for assistance to Louisiana; today Louisiana pays for assistance to New York. Is that necessarily the most efficient way to accomplish our goals?
FEMA essentially represents a centralized "command and control" approach to disaster relief. It presumes that only the experts in Washington—not state and local officials, and certainly not private charities—know best how to respond to local needs and conditions.
The bottom line: Big government is seldom the same as effective government. That applies as much to disaster relief as to anything else.