A Tale of Two Cities

Question: what do the following two headline stories have in common? Answer: they are the most important logistical endeavors and tests of management competence that the Bush administration has faced. From the New York Times:

Poor Planning and Corruption Hobble Reconstruction of Iraq

The United States has poured more than $200 million into reconstruction projects in [Najaf], part of the $10 billion it has spent to rebuild Iraq. Najaf is widely cited by the military as one of the success stories in that effort, but American officers involved in the rebuilding say that reconstruction projects here, as elsewhere in the country, are hobbled by poor planning, corrupt contractors and a lack of continuity among the rotating coalition officers charged with overseeing the spending.

And from the Washington Post:

Lack of Cohesion Bedevils Recovery
Red Tape, Lapses in Planning Stall Relief

Three weeks after Hurricane Katrina struck, red tape and poor planning have left thousands of evacuees without basic services, according to local and state officials, public policy experts and survivors themselves.

Hundreds of thousands of people from New Orleans and Gulf Coast communities have fled, sometimes to neighboring states and beyond, moving in with friends and family or into shelters, public housing and hotels funded by the Red Cross. With little guidance from federal and state governments — and no single person or entity in charge of the overall operation — cities and counties have been left on their own to find survivors homes, schools, jobs and health care. A patchwork of policies has resulted, causing relief agencies to sometimes work at cross-purposes.

The similarities in the goals of these two endeavors are striking, as are the similarities in their outcomes to date. These two massive undertakings are, above all, enormous management challanges – and clearly they have both been managed very ineffectively so far. There have been some successes in Iraq, to be sure – thanks to the excellent efforts of many of the individuals on the ground there. But an awful lot of other things have been done breathtakingly poorly, thanks to the bad leadership and bad management that the Bush administration seems unable or unwilling to fix, even after years of awful results.

Running the government poorly has consequences. Those consequences have been mostly borne by the citizens of Iraq so far (and only very indirectly by US taxpayers), but now the residents of the Gulf coast are feeling their effects first-hand. I hope that I’m wrong, but the sad history of the US reconstruction effort in Iraq provides a grim suggestion of what we may expect in New Orleans over the next few years.