The Daily Caller explains how it works in the Gulf. “Escambia County sends a request to the Mobile, Ala., Unified Command Center…Then, it’s reviewed by BP, the federal government, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Coast Guard. If they don’t like it, they don’t tell us anything.” The frustration is palpable. Local officials are increasingly frustrated that rather than support from the federal government they are just getting red tape—which doesn’t soak up much oil.

Messing-up the oil spill clean-up reflects a bigger problem, Washington has been playing a bigger and bigger role in running disaster response—and as a result the response is getting worse not better.

The current structure of the Department of Homeland Security is too centralized in Washington, DC to effectively respond to catastrophic disasters. When disaster strikes, this is a major problem in terms of getting resources on the ground efficiently. Heritage Homeland Security expert Matt Mayer recently wrote “FEMA does not spend enough time preparing for catastrophic natural disasters–increasing the likelihood that the federal response for the next catastrophe will be insufficient, as it was during Hurricane Katrina.”

Guess what? He was right.

State and local governments know their geography, people, economic impacts, and needs fare better than does the federal government. For too long, policymakers have tried to force through a federal solution to this problem. However, effectively responding to such disasters requires a true enterprise of participants from federal agencies and actors, to state and local governments, and the private sector. Empowering all of these entities makes the difference.

One significant impediment to empowering state and local governments to drive their own crisis response is that DHS has not used the grant program to build needed capabilities at the local level. Instead, the program has often been driven by politics and isn’t aligned with gaps in resources or allocated effectively on the basis of risk.

Washington must decentralize response and recovery efforts empowering, rather than thwarting the ability of state and local governments to respond more rapidly and decisively to safeguard the livelihood of their communities and the local environment.