Editorial: Doing it right

During much of this month, the nation was watching hurricanes charge along the East Coast — especially in the Southeast. And large numbers of people have been turning to government Web sites for information on the storms.

As Hurricane Ivan ravaged the Gulf Coast, people swarmed to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Web site, www.noaa.gov. The site received a record number of hits — in fact, in the first eight days of September, the site received 200 million hits, equivalent to one-third of the total traffic for all of 2003. Of course, there was only one hurricane, Isabel, in 2003.

The millions of visitors put NOAA's Web team to the test: They had to ensure that the site was accessible to those who could be affected and by onlookers whose curiosity was piqued by the massive storms. So, NOAA officials quickly took steps to ensure that enough bandwidth was available to keep up with the demand.

Such emergencies also demonstrate that federal agencies can work together and with state and local agencies. In addition to NOAA's work, aircraft from Immigration and Customs Enforcement helped transport Federal Emergency Management Agency officials to and from hurricane-affected sites. They also flew over the storm's path after it passed to collect high-resolution images for damage assessment. That information allowed FEMA officials to determine which areas were in need of immediate help.

The hurricanes are the most recent example of how government organizations come together when they need to. During emergencies, turf wars are shoved aside and officials do what needs to be done to accomplish the task at hand.

The true task, however, is to make those extraordinary efforts part of the ordinary way government officials do business.

There are obvious systemic obstacles to such cooperation: the foolish way lawmakers appropriate money for specific projects and then slap agency officials down when they try to coordinate funding efforts, as lawmakers have been doing with e-government initiatives.

But the consensus is that it makes no sense for every agency to do governmentwide tasks on their own. Crises demonstrate that agencies can work together. We hope that approach can be incorporated into the rest of the challenges that confront agencies.

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