I have written a number of times that one of the problems with the Katrina aftermath was not that the federal government did too little, but that they try to do too much. For example:
While turning down offers to help, when everyone agrees not enough
is being done, may seem unthinkable, these are actually predictable
outcomes from a [government] bureaucracy of technocrats. Technocrats value process
over results, order and predictability over achievement. More
important than having problems fixed is having an ordered process,
having everything and everyone under control. In this context, you can
imagine their revulsion at the thought of having private citizens
running around on their own in the disaster area trying to help
people. We don't know where they are! We don't know what they are
doing! They are not part of our process! Its too chaotic! Its not
Nearly everyone who is in government has a technocratic impulse -
after all, if they believed that bottom up efforts by private citizens
working on their own was the way to get things done, they would not be
in government trying to override those efforts. But most emergency
organizations are off the scale in this regard. 99% of their time,
they don't actually have an emergency to deal with - they are
planning. They are creating elaborate logistics plans and procedures
and deployment plans. Planners, rather than people of action,
gravitate to these organizations. So, once a disaster really hits, the
planners run around in circles, hit by the dual problem of 1) their
beautiful plans are now obsolete, since any good general can tell you
that no plan ever survives first contact with the enemy and 2) they are
by nature still planners, trying to get order and process underway and
create a new updated plan, rather than just getting every possible
resource out there fixing the dang problem.
Kerry Howley in Reason's Hit and Run discusses a similar problem in Southeast Asia in the aftermath of the deadly Tsunami:
A year and a half after the deadliest tsunami in recorded history, a
pan-Asian warning system seems about as likely as, say, competent
airport security stateside. So Sri Lankans have poured donations into
DIY monitoring stations, using the Web and volunteers to watch for quakes...
How do officials react to the exciting new world of distributed warning technology?
But the government does not want ad-hoc tsunami warning centres handing out advice to local communities.
"Only the Met Department is authorised to give tsunami warnings and
evacuation orders. They cannot do it. It is illegal. That creates
unnecessary panic," Darmaratne said.
Just as in the Katrina aftermath, the government answer is that we would rather have nothing happen than positive efforts occur that we don't control (or take credit for).