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Understanding the nature of the federal government

Understanding the nature of the federal government
Understanding the nature of the federal government

Fox News' Brit Hume, the network's D.C. managing editor, said something interesting yesterday on Twitter that stuck in my head.

It seems that Hume believes the "big federal government" is nowhere to be found. Congress isn't in session, and federal office buildings were closed temporarily due to the emergency conditions. This is proof, apparently, that those who see a critical federal role in emergency response efforts are wrong -- "big problems" are addressed, Hume notes, even when the federal government is closed.

For the record, I don't think Hume was kidding.

In case anyone else is confused, let's pause to understand the nature of the government. If Hume believes that responses to natural disasters can continue without a hitch, even when those who help process Social Security checks are at home, he's correct. The same is true when the Smithsonian is closed and administrators at the Department of Agriculture have a couple of days off.

But the mistake is recognizing these basic details and then concluding that a "big federal government" isn't important in addressing disasters like this week's super-storm. FEMA, for example, didn't "go home early" on Monday, and it wasn't "mostly closed" on Tuesday. No one took the day off at the National Response Coordination Center, either.

It's government that's delivering relief supplies, government that's rescuing the stranded, and government that took preparatory steps to mitigate the devastation before the storm hit. What's more, it'll be government that helps lead in the recovery efforts, and Congress should probably start preparing itself for writing a big check.

If Hume's point is that many federal agencies are not related to crisis management, I'll gladly concede the point, though I haven't the foggiest idea why that point is supposed to matter.

Update: The Navy announced this morning that it's sending three helicopter carrier ships to the New York and New Jersey areas to provide assistance. This is important, obviously, and it's possible even when the Library of Congress' doors are closed.