Five Questions President Obama Should Ask in His Visit to New Orleans


Oct 14, 2009

By Melissa Flournoy

This commentary originally appeared in The Times-Picayune on October 14, 2009.

The Times-Picayune has been covering the local debate over what to show and tell President Obama when he visits Thursday. The federal government has spent about $140 billion responding to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and the Gulf Coast now needs more money for hurricane and flood protection and for coastal restoration. But we still haven't properly evaluated whether our money was spent wisely.

Here are five questions President Obama should ask and for which we should have good answers:

1. What worked, and where were recovery funds wasted? How can we improve?

2. What else can we do to reduce future hurricane damage, particularly near major river estuaries where there is continuing risk from rising sea levels?

3. How can we inspire elected officials to listen more carefully to citizens' views and consider how the different elements of disaster response and recovery need to fit together to work?

4. How can we achieve greater regional cooperation among states, parishes, counties and municipalities, and can we form public-private partnerships to improve outcomes and speed the rate of recovery?

5. Do we need an organization such as the Louisiana Redevelopment Authority to boost long-term economic development, instead of temporary groups that are formed after each disaster? How can the federal government respond more effectively, given its current organizational design?

Taking the trouble to answer these questions now will pay off many times over in smarter decisions in the future.

Melissa S. Flournoy, Director, RAND Gulf States Policy Institute, New Orleans

This letter to the editor was published by The Times-Picayune.

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