FLINT, Michigan—I can’t stop thinking about Lawrence White. In January, at a downtown coffee shop, I chatted with the 43-year-old state employee and owner of a small security firm about the poisoning of his city. Then I squeezed his thinking into one paragraph of a column on government dysfunction.
“I’m not just singling out Governor Snyder,” said the Democrat, an African American. “All the politicians including the EPA are playing tit-for-tat, playing games at our expense. It’s everybody. It’s Republicans. It’s Democrats. It’s a globalization of not caring for the people of Flint.”
His quote buttressed my theory of the case, so that’s all I shared with readers. What he said next remained in my notebook—and haunts me. White continued: “What matters to me as an American, what should matter to all Americans, is that we learn from this: How do we change the way government works? How do we fix these systems?” White paused to blow on his coffee and sip. “How do we avoid another Flint?”
I asked him if he had any ideas. White nodded.
“To start with, let me see my damn tests,” he said. “Why does the government sit on them?”
The knee-jerk answer to White’s question is that it’s the job of government to conduct public-health tests and double-check the results; to analyze the results and peer-review the analyses; to consult with internal partners and external agencies before recommending a course of action up the chain of command; to pressure-test those recommendations with political and public-relations professionals; and, finally, to inform the public: “Hey, we got a problem, and here’s what we’re going do about it.”