In an opinion piece yesterday, the Washington Post's Dana Milbank highlighted a telling story: Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Craig Fugate pointed out at a White House press conference that 10 years ago, the state of Florida likely would have been evacuated in advance of Hurricane Irene, because forecasting models would not have been able to accurately predict where the hurricane would make landfall.
Instead, during the past decade, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has made great strides in improving its models, enabling the agency to predict within 10 miles where Irene would hit the United States.
Likewise, FEMA itself has made great advances since Hurricane Katrina six years ago, and was able to anticipate needs up and down the entire eastern seaboard and coordinate a huge-scale response effort.
"Don't expect anybody to throw a tea party, but Big Government finally got one right," Milbank writes.
I have only one quibble: "Finally"?
Big government gets it right on a fairly regular basis. It's just that these days, success in government often means the absence of something bad happening: planes crashing into one another, terrorists carrying out plots, civil rights being denied, veterans going without vital medical treatment. Government's proactive successes -- landing on the moon, rebuilding Europe after World War II, building the interstate highway system -- are largely the stuff of history. Or at least that's the way they tend to be viewed. That's one reason (but only one) why Americans rate the federal government dead last among 25 industries in the country.
In the October issue of Government Executive (featuring a complete redesign of the magazine), we'll look at the subject of "excellence in government." For the issue, our research unit, the Government Business Council, conducted a poll of federal managers and executives on government's greatest accomplishments. We got some interesting answers. Watch out for it.
(Photo: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)