116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
By The Gazette Editorial Board
U.S. Rep. Dave Loebsack is calling for the creation of a National Flood Center to coordinate a federal effort to bring the latest research to bear on flood preparedness and protection.
Loebsack would like to see the center housed in his district at the University of Iowa, which is already home to the Iowa Flood Center. His legislation is still being drafted, so a lot of details have yet to be filled in.
But on the surface, we see merit in Loebsack's vision of an agency that can pull together research and expertise from several sources to help communities across the country prepare for imminent or potential flooding.
The federal government is home to a web of agencies with some responsibility for flood response and prevention. Instead of working in tandem, most of the agencies are hemmed in by rules, regulations and congressional edicts that limit the scope of their work and ability to collaborate. For example, climate scientists in one part of government may be sounding the alarm on rising flood risks due to climate changes, but the Army Corps of Engineers is barred by statute from incorporating those warnings into models used to determine which flood protection plans get federal funding.
Too many federal agencies respond to flooding with outdated models and cookie-cutter approaches based more on long bureaucratic custom than on real time, up-to-date research data.
If the center Loebsack envisions can pull together the best research and practices available, cut through bureaucratic barriers to actually change, improve the way the nation prepares and responds to floods, and makes Americans safer, it would be money well spent. The Iowa Flood Center, which is still a new agency, has shown, on a small scale, how focused data collection can be infinitely valuable to communities wrestling with how to craft flood protection and preparations.
And on a large scale, federal efforts such as the National Hurricane Center have shown how the focused use of beefed-up scientific resources can have a profound, far-reaching impact on preparedness and public safety.
But we're much less interested in Loebsack's concept if it is simply another pricey acronym tacked on to the federal flow chart. We don't think there's any need for setting up a think tank to churn out reports destined for a high shelf. Unless the center has real authority to cut through bureaucratic barriers and make real changes in flood response, the government should save its money.
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