Breakdowns of accountability in the face of natural disasters: The case of Hurricane Katrinaby C. Richard Baker

Critical Perspectives on Accounting

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Year
2014
DOI
10.1016/j.cpa.2014.02.005
Subject
Information Systems and Management / Sociology and Political Science / Finance / Accounting

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untability as that ral disaster, like a e the breakdowns were exacerbated by the stresses produced by the storm. The overall conclusion of the paper is that there was a lack of communication among

Critical Perspectives on Accounting xxx (2014) xxx–xxx

A R T I C L E I N F O

Article history:

Received 11 September 2013

Received in revised form 19 December 2013

Accepted 14 February 2014

Available online xxx

Mots cle´s:

Critique

Social

Environnemental

Redevabilite´, Responsabilite´

Palabras clave:

Crı´tica

Social

Ambiental

Rendicio´n de cuentas

Keywords:

Critical

Social

Environmental

Accountability

Hurricane

A B S T R A C T

Hurricane Katrina, which struck the Gulf Cost of the United States at the end of August 2005, was one of the most costly and deadly natural disasters ever experienced by the

United States. A breach of levees and the subsequent flooding of the city of New Orleans resulted in the displacement of more than 250,000 people. The death toll exceeded 1800 persons and total damages were estimated to exceed $125 billion. The response to the hurricane by city, state and the federal governments has been severely criticized by many commentators. The purpose of this paper is to examine breakdowns in accountability during and after the storm which were manifested by a lack of communication between government officials and a failure on the part of officials to act responsibly on behalf of victims, many of whom were poor, black and elderly. We also examine whether the breakdown in accountability may be traceable to institutional racism embedded in the history and geography of the city of NewOrleans. FollowingMcKernan’s (2012) argument, the paper reinforces the need to go beyond a ‘‘calculative accountability’’ toward ‘‘the potential of accountability to enhance levels of responsibility for the other’’ (p. 259). It is thismoral aspect to the concept of accountability thatwas sorely lacking in the response of government officials to Hurricane Katrina.  2014 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

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YCPAC-1836; No. of Pages 13

Contents lists available at ScienceDirect

Critical Perspectives on Accountingdifferent levels of government in the US federal system and a lack of compassion on the part of government officials who1. Introduction

The research question addressed in this paper is: ‘‘what can a major natural disaster tell us about acco concept has been used in the accounting literature’’. The paper seeks to illustrate the ways that a natu hurricane, can lead to breakdowns in accountability. It is important to note that the hurricane did not caus in accountability; rather, the potential for breakdowns in accountability which existed prior to the stormBreakdowns of accountability in the face of natural disasters:

The case of Hurricane Katrina

C. Richard Baker a,b,* a School of Business, Adelphi University, Garden City, NY 11530, USA bNeoma Business School, France journal homepage: www.elsev ier .com/ locate /cpashould have acted more responsibly on behalf of victims, who were primarily poor, black and elderly. The breakdowns in accountability led to thousands of deaths among citizens of the City of New Orleans and horrendous conditions for the * Tel.: +1 516 877 4628.

E-mail address: Baker3@Adelphi.edu

Please cite this article in press as: Baker CR. Breakdowns of accountability in the face of natural disasters: The case of

Hurricane Katrina. Crit Perspect Account (2014), http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.cpa.2014.02.005 http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.cpa.2014.02.005 1045-2354/ 2014 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved. accou conce

Th discus geogr

C.R. Baker / Critical Perspectives on Accounting xxx (2014) xxx–xxx2

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YCPAC-1836; No. of Pages 13stage for the breakdowns in accountability that took place during Hurricane Katrina. Section 4 presents a chronology of the events related to storm between 23rd August and 5th September 2005. Section 5 traces the multiple failures of communication and breakdowns in accountability at various levels of government including the City of New Orleans, the

State of Louisiana, the US Army Corps of Engineers, and the US Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Section 6 summarizes and discusses the breakdowns in accountability in light of the prior literature, and Section 7 concludes the paper. 2. The concept of accountability in the prior accounting literature

The concept of accountability has been extensively addressed in the prior accounting literature (see for example:

Medawar, 1976; Schreuder and Ramanathan, 1984; Roberts, 1991; Sinclair, 1995; Shearer, 2002; Neu, 2006; Cooper and

Owen, 2007; Everett et al., 2007; McKernan, 2012; McKernan and McPhail, 2012). A special issue of Critical Perspective on

Accounting edited by John McKernan and Ken McPhail, was devoted to various issues and problematics associated with the topic of accountability (McKernan andMcPhail, 2012). One important point raised in this special issue was the need tomake a distinction between ‘‘calculative accountability’’ and ‘‘narrative accountability’’ (Kamuf, 2007). A moral aspect to ‘‘narrative’’ accountability has also been discussed by Shearer (2002) and McKernan (2012).

By ‘‘calculative accountability’’ McKernan andMcPhail (2012) mean the type of accountability that focuses on ‘‘objective facts’’, hard evidence, and numbers that speak for themselves (Kamuf, 2007, p. 252). In contrast, ‘‘narrative’’ accountability deals with subjective feelings and the absence of hard objective evidence (McKernan and McPhail, 2012, p. 120). McKernan (2012) indicates that ‘‘the concept of accountability is reliant on responsibility, the very possibility of which is undermined by the exercise of accountability’’ (p. 181). He also stresses the need to bring ‘‘responsible caring for the other’’ into the concept of accountability.

In both corporate and governmental entities, a calculative accountability is the dominant form of accountability.