New Orleans becomes federal city as recovery efforts grind on
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New Orleans becomes federal city as recovery efforts grind on

Government Executive | September 12, 2005
By Chris Strohm

Editor's Note: Government Executive reporter Chris Strohm is in New Orleans. This is the first of several dispatches he will file this week on recovery efforts.

NEW ORLEANS--Two weeks after Hurricane Katrina unleashed her wrath, causing immense devastation and killing an as-yet-uncounted number of people, New Orleans has become, for all intents and purposes, a federal city.

A metropolis that once bustled with busy residents and tourists who partied on Bourbon Street is now occupied by U.S. military forces and a dozen federal agencies working side by side, street by street, with state and local authorities. It seems that every agency wants a piece of this action.

Although the immediate humanitarian crisis is subsiding, agencies dealing with emergency management remain in the Big Easy doing a collective--albeit sometimes chaotic--job to secure, dry out, clean and rebuild the city.

Much of New Orleans is a ghost town. Streets are lined with vacant buildings, some boarded up, others smashed by trees or telephone poles. The sides of some structures have collapsed, sometimes on top of cars or other buildings. Debris is everywhere. Dogs roam the streets searching for any food. Streets in the northern section of New Orleans remain flooded, though authorities say they expect the city to be drained within a month.

Many of those residents who have been allowed to remain have been put to work cleaning the streets for $10 an hour, sweeping debris into heaps so it can be shoveled into overflowing garbage cans or picked up with bulldozers operated by National Guard troops.

Although the water has subsided, the city remains flooded with an alphabet soup of federal agencies.

A walk from the Mississippi riverfront up Canal Street reveals a collage of federal uniforms, vehicles and mobile command centers. Agencies out in force include not only the Federal Emergency Management Agency but the Environmental Protection Agency, the Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement bureaus, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Private security contractors also are out in full force.

The amphibious battle ship Iwo Jima is docked just off the waterfront, on the southern tip of Canal Street. The military's Joint Task Force command center is housed on the ship.

National Guard units from areas as far away as Oregon and Puerto Rico maneuver military convoys of construction equipment along streets. Active-duty soldiers from the 82nd Airborne at Ft. Bragg, N.C., hump it on foot patrols.

The National Guard is providing support to FEMA and state and local authorities as they go door-to-door contacting residents who have not left the city. CBP, ICE, ATF and the Border Patrol are on hand to help with law enforcement and emergency assistance. Agents roam the streets with machine guns pointed down and pistols strapped to their waists.

FEMA and EPA officials have fanned out across the city to conduct tests of air and water. The extent of environmental damage and contamination has yet to be fully determined.

Every agency has a forward-operating command center, each of which is running 24 hours a day. Officials say they've already learned all kinds of lessons about how to deal with a catastrophic situation as a result of their experience in Katrina's aftermath. New Orleans has become somewhat of a federal laboratory--an experiment in a large number of agencies descending on one place at the same time and setting up ad hoc arrangements to conduct operations, even if their efforts sometimes overlap with each other.

Despite all the destruction and chaos, some of the charm that made the Big Easy unique remains. Every day, hot food is served in front of the city's World Trade Center, compliments of the Elberta Little League. Soldiers, federal law enforcement officers, relief workers, contractors and state and local authorities stand in line together to feast on surprisingly tasty selections, such as hamburgers, hot dogs, chicken, shredded pork and shrimp creole.

As the sun goes down, the authorities pack their belongings and head back to where they berth, leaving the riverfront almost as barren as the rest of the city. Tomorrow they'll get up and do it all again. Nobody really knows when they'll be going home for good.

Flashback:

Nagin Announces Major Overhaul of City Hall
New Homeland Security office to oversee cops, firemen, emergency agency

Nola.com | February 11, 2003

In the wake of terrorist attacks and the creation of national and local agencies to guard against such future calamities, the Nagin administration announced today a City Hall reorganization plan that will bring city public safety agencies under the newly created Department of Homeland Security, the administration announced today.

Also, several other city agencies involved in permitting, planning and historic preservation, will be brought under the control of the Office of Technology in an effort to streamline the process of dealing with City Hall.

The reorganization continues an effort to recast city departments that started when the Utilities Department was dismantled and its duties spread to other city departments. The reorganization is aimed at correcting a confusing organizational structure, creating clear lines of accountability, aligning departments that deal with similar issues and inserting technological expertise in certain departments. Many City Hall operations are decentralized under the new structure.

"We did a complete review of City government operations and came up with a plan that is technology—based while better—aligning departments and agencies to maximize their effectiveness," Nagin said in a statement.

The old organizational chart placed 35 departments and agencies under the Chief Administrative Office, creating a structure where the responsibility for most departments was filtered through the CAO's office. The organization of the mayor's office was also cumbersome, with many duplicated functions.

The reorganization plan creates an Office of Homeland Security and gives it oversight of public safety agencies, including the police department, the fire department and the Office of Emergency Preparedness. The plan streamlines safety and permits and it integrates all financial and accounting duties into a budget and accountability system.

The reorganization of City Hall will be as follows:


Homeland Security
— Will oversee Police, Fire, Office of Emergency and Preparedness. All formerly reported to the Chief Administrative Office.
— Will oversee Emergency Medical Services, which formerly reported to the Health Department.
— Will work with the Orleans Parish Communications District (911 Center)


Office of Technology
— Will oversee Safety and Permits, City Planning Commission, Historic District Landmark Commission (HDLC) and the 311 Center. These departments and agencies formerly reported to the Chief Administrative Office.
— The functions of these departments are highly dependent on each other, but in the past they have been fragmented. Coordinating these offices under the Office of Technology increases efficiencies, improves working relationships and increases business integrity.


Intergovernmental Relations
— Will oversee Federal/State Programs and Grant Monitoring. Formerly these offices reported directly to the Mayor.
— Intergovernmental Relations works directly with federal, state and local agencies to secure funding for the City of New Orleans.


Law Department
— Will oversee the Office of Municipal Investigation and Internal Audit. These offices formerly reported to the Chief Administrative Office.
— Will oversee the risk management department.


CFO/Finance Director
— Will oversee the Budget, Accounting, Revenue, Treasury, Retirement/Pensions/Trust and Purchasing. The Budget Departmentformerly reported to the Chief Administrative Office.


Communications
— Will oversee the Office of Cultural Affairs, which formerly reported to Federal & State Programs.
— Will oversee the Office of Special Events, which formerly reported to the Office of Intergovernmental Relations.


Economic Development
— In addition to overseeing the Canal Street Development Corporation and Rivergate, the Office of Economic Development will oversee the Vieux Carre Commission and French Market Corp. Those agencies formerly reported to the Chief Administrative Office.


Chief Administrative Office
— Will oversee Finance, Parks & Parkways, NORD, Property Mgt, Sanitation, Equipment and Maintenance Division, the Municipal Training Academy, the Health Department, the Human Services Department, Capital projects, Public Works, Civil Service and other administrative functions.


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