The Wall Street Journal explains how the private sector ran rings around government (in all its levels) before and during the early days of Katrina:
Wal-Mart mined its vast databases of past purchases to compile lists of goods most desired after a hurricane. (Among the top items? Strawberry pop tarts.) Because of its advance logistics planning, the big retail chain was able to quickly move in to devastated areas with mini Wal-Marts to hand out goods. Other firms leveraged similar supply-chain capabilities; Pfizer dispensed pharmaceuticals via Wal-Mart and other retailers. “What companies do is solve problems,” says Johanna Schneider, an executive director at the Business Roundtable.
Granted, a FEMA is never going to operate with the agility of a FedEx. FedEx and the others perform at this level 24/7; that’s the nature of competition. That said, surely there are lessons here worth learning and attempting to transfer to the public sector. And we don’t mean three years from now after another round of reassessment and performance reviews. The challenge of reconstruction is now. It wouldn’t hurt if the responsible public agencies asked the private participants in the rescue operation for some pointers on getting the next job done on budget and on time.
Last week, Professor Bainbridge had a post on outsourcing disaster relief; certainly sounds worth trying.