07/11/2007 01:37 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

It's Accountability If We Like It, Finger-Pointing If We Don't

Today the centipede dropped another shoe. The Army Corps of Engineers, which takes almost as long to explain its mistakes as to commit them, issued its second and perhaps final report on the flooding disaster in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Last year's Corps document, the famous mea kinda culpa, examined how the alleged flood-control structures failed. This report purports to answer the question, "Why?" Two different accounts give you a very different prism through which to view this latest Corps creation. The Washington Post identifies the authors in this paragraph:

"There was a general sense that what was being built wasn't up to snuff," said Leonard A. Shabman, a resident scholar at Resources for the Future, an environmental think tank. But Corps and local officials "were basically saying there is a budget cap and we are going to build what we can with that." Shabman co-authored the report with Douglas Woolley from Radford University.

In the New Orleans Times-Picayune, Mark Schliefstein, co-author of the essential book on Katrina, "Path of Destruction", paints a rather different picture of the authors:

The study was authored by Douglas Woolley and Leonard Shabman, two nationally recognized economists with long ties to the report's sponsor, the corps' Institute of Water Resources.

We've become familiar, in the area of pharmaceutical research, with the importance of knowing the backgrounds, and financial ties, of the authors. Assuming Pulitzer winner Schliefstein is right, the Post eliminated crucial information for assessing the credibility of the report.
But the Post did include one crucial quote from the document:

"We did not attempt to point the finger of blame individually or institutionally," Woolley said.

So, great. We're almost two years on from the disaster. In the early weeks and months, we repeatedly heard from Federal officials that it was too early to assess blame, that there was plenty of time for that later. Now, it's apparently too late for that. To date, no one has lost his or her job or suffered any other penalty for the catastrophic decision-making that came close to wrecking a major American city. (Mike Brown lost his job for the poor response after the fact) When's our accountability moment? I must have sneezed, cause I missed it.