How Gov’t Failed in Wake of Superstorm Sandy

In Washington, the debate between Republicans and Democrats is really about the role of government. How big should it be? How much should it do in our lives?

But if you have any questions about how effective government is, look no further than the Long Island Power Authority, or LIPA as folks here call it.

The authority is one of some 2,000 publicly-owned utilities serving 46 million Americans in this country.

LIPA is run by the government via a board of directors that calls the shots. The members are chosen by New York’s governors.

LIPA has called attention to itself in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, and not the good kind.

The power authority's performance in getting the lights back on on hard-hit Long Island has been a bust according to most sources.

The monopoly's performance: Poor at best.

Governor Cuomo called out the authority:

“I think they were not prepared. I think they were non-communicative in their response. I think their non-communicativeness actually exacerbated the situation. You know, people understood they went through a storm. New Yorkers are understanding people. But just tell me the facts. Tell me when? Tell me how? Give me an idea.”

It's hard to argue.

Two days after the storm, an overwhelming 90% of 1.1 million customers were without power.

Five days later, power was restored to just 600,000, leaving another half a million without power.

And last Friday, 100,000 people were still without power, almost two weeks after the storm. And today, 16 days later, still 46,000 have no power.

I can't tell you how many people I work with who live on Long Island who said they felt like they lived in a third world country.

This isn't the first time LIPA has had trouble. Not by a long-shot.

Last year's tropical storm Irene left 523,000 people on Long Island without power for nine days. Similar outrage followed.

To be sure, Sandy was a massive storm and LIPA's task huge.

But new details are emerging that shed light on just how troubled the authority is.

News reports reveal a company hampered by a crony-laden board of directors, and one that often failed in its efforts to communicate with customers.        When officials in a post-storm news conference suggested customers download information from their website, angry residents responded it would be impossible to download anything since they had no power to fire up their computers.

Anger at the utility is firing a stream of invective on Twitter and email.

Chris writes: "At LIPA: I got my power back but I still and will hate you. I feel for those that still don't have power."

Shawn agrees: "LIPA is incompetent, LIPA is clueless, LIPA is not utilizing their resources correctly, and LIPA has failed. End of story."

Ironically, LIPA was formed by former governor Mario Cuomo to answer critics who complained the company's response to Hurricane Gloria was inept.

That was two decades ago.

Today, Cuomo's son, Andrew, is highly critical of LIPA - calling for an investigation post Sandy, but he has left at least three spots on the board unfilled.

In fact, since LIPA is an arm of state government,  who do we blame for its shortcomings?


Government isn't the solution to this problem or others.

It makes me queasy to think health care is next on the list.