After the debacle of the U.S. government’s response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005, things could hardly have been worse at the Federal Emergency Management Agency. But since then, and in large part because of the work of Janet Napolitano, New Orleans and Louisiana have had a strong federal partner in hurricane response and recovery.
As Napolitano retires as secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, one can only look to the rising medical complex in New Orleans as an example of her commitment to working out the difficult problems of planning and funding major projects in Louisiana.
The former governor of Arizona understood instinctively that local and state officials could not be left hanging by the seemingly endless disputes that arose from FEMA bookkeeping. Napolitano’s arbitration panels arrived at decisions, and she made them stick.
One result was seen in a $1.8 billion lump sum for school rebuilding, ending a war of green eye-shade bureaucrats haggling over every pencil that might be replaced with federal money.
With Craig Fugate, who formerly worked with Republican governors in Florida, Napolitano made FEMA more effective in its critical response to natural disasters. That is also a significant contribution to our state and the entire Gulf Coast.
Louisiana voters haven’t been fond of President Barack Obama, but we’ve had reason to be pleased with some of his appointees. The issue of anti-terrorism in Homeland Security gets the press attention nationally, but Napolitano and others in Obama’s cabinet have been of vital importance to our parochial concerns in Louisiana, entangled in federal issues that came with the winds and floods of 2005.
We wish Napolitano well as she becomes head of the University of California. And we hope that when the ribbon is cut on a new medical complex in New Orleans, local officials will remember to extend an invitation to the woman who helped make it possible.
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