Thousands of applicants for federal emergency relief money after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita used duplicate or invalid Social Security numbers or bogus addresses, suggesting that the $2.3 billion program was a victim of extensive fraud, a Congressional auditor will report Monday.
The examination of the so-called Expedited Assistance program determined that the Federal Emergency Management Agency failed to take even the most basic steps to confirm the identifies of about 1.4 million people who sought expedited cash assistance, leaving the program vulnerable to the "significant fraud and abuse," the Government Accountability Office intends to report.
The auditors did not try to estimate the total dollar amount of fraudulent claims. But the report says that FEMA itself had found that 900,000 of the 2.5 million applications for all forms of individual assistance were "potential duplicates."
There's a short AP report in "Ex-FEMA Chief Blames Homeland Security", a longer one in "Brown blames Homeland for Katrina response: Ex-FEMA chief says he's a scapegoat: 'I feel somewhat abandoned'". CNN offers "Brown says he's been made Katrina scapegoat: Ex-FEMA chief blames Homeland Security for slow response". Commentary here and here, video excerpt here.
Michael D. Brown, former director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, testified today that he let senior White House staffers know as soon as he had heard that flooding had begun in New Orleans on the day Hurricane Katrina made landfall.
Mr. Brown also called claims by top officials at the Department of Homeland Security that they weren't aware of levee breaches until the next day " just baloney."
Mr. Brown said that homeland security officials were being regularly updated by reports delivered through video conference calls, and that he personally contacted White House officials.
"My obligation was to the White House and to make sure the president knows what's going on," he said, "and I did that."
Some of the emails are in this PDF file.
Regarding one of the emails, the following remains to be verified:
- Brian Besanceney, author of the email, is the Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs at the Department of Homeland Security
- Cynthia Bergman is an EPA spokeswoman
- Jeff Karonis is the Director of Incident Communications for DHS Public Affairs
- William R. "Russ" Knocke is a DHS spokesman
- Chad Boudreaux is Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy at DHS
- Ashley Cannati is Counselor to the Deputy Secretary, Office of the Secretary, United States Department of Homeland Security
According to emails and other documents recently released, no less than twenty-eight government agencies - ranging from the local level all the way up to the White House - knew that the levees had broken on August 29, the day the storm landed.
In fact, "the Bush administration" knew about the failures at 7:30 am NO time [But, see update below]:
White House spokesman Trent Duffy said President Bush and his top aides were fully aware about the massive flooding - and less concerned whether it was caused by levee breaches, overtoppings of failed pumps, all three of which were being reported at the time.
"We knew there was flooding and that's why the No. 1 effort in those early hours was on search and rescue, and saving life and limb," Duffy said.
Shortly after the disaster, Bush said, "I don't think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees." He later said his comment was meant to suggest that there had been a false sense of relief that the levees had held when the storm passed, only to break a few hours later.
Democrats said the documents showed there was little excuse for the tardy federal response.
"The first communication came at 8:30 a.m.," said Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., top Democrat on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. "So it is inexplicable to me how those responsible for the federal response could have woken up Tuesday morning unaware of this obviously catastrophic situation."
The first internal White House communication about levee failures came at 11:13 a.m. on Aug. 29 in a "Katrina Spot Report" by the White House Homeland Security Council.
"Flooding is significant throughout the region and a levee in New Orleans has reportedly been breached sending 6-8 feet of water throughout the 9th ward area of the city," the internal report said.
UPDATE: The NYT's "White House Knew of Levee's Failure on Night of Storm" offers a contradictory tale:
In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Bush administration officials said they had been caught by surprise when they were told on Tuesday, Aug. 30, that a levee had broken, allowing floodwaters to engulf New Orleans.
But Congressional investigators have now learned that an eyewitness account of the flooding from a federal emergency official reached the Homeland Security Department's headquarters starting at 9:27 p.m. the day before, and the White House itself at midnight.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency official, Marty Bahamonde, first heard of a major levee breach Monday morning. By late Monday afternoon, Mr. Bahamonde had hitched a ride on a Coast Guard helicopter over the breach at the 17th Street Canal to confirm the extensive flooding. He then telephoned his report to FEMA headquarters in Washington, which notified the Homeland Security Department.
"FYI from FEMA," said an e-mail message from the agency's public affairs staff describing the helicopter flight, sent Monday night at 9:27 to the chief of staff of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and recently unearthed by investigators. Conditions, the message said, "are far more serious than media reports are currently reflecting. Finding extensive flooding and more stranded people than they had thought - also a number of fires."
It appears the White House has cut him loose and have given the word that they won't defend him. And, he's asking whether he can now tell all that he knows:
Former disaster agency chief Michael Brown is indicating he is ready to reveal his correspondence with President Bush and other officials during Hurricane Katrina unless the White House forbids it and offers legal support.
Brown's stance, in a letter obtained Wednesday by The Associated Press, follows senators' complaints that the White House is refusing to answer questions or release documents about advice given to Bush concerning the August 29 storm.
In a February 6 letter to White House counsel Harriet Miers, Brown's lawyer wrote that Brown continues to respect Bush and his "presidential prerogative" to get candid and confidential advice from top aides.
The letter from Andrew W. Lester also says Brown no longer can rely on being included in that protection because he is a private citizen.
"Unless there is specific direction otherwise from the president, including an assurance the president will provide a legal defense to Mr. Brown if he refuses to testify as to these matters, Mr. Brown will testify if asked about particular communications," the lawyer wrote.
Brown's desire "is that all facts be made public."
White House spokesman Trent Duffy declined to comment on the letter, instead pointing to remarks two weeks ago in which Bush avoided directly including Brown among his advisers...
Engineer Manual No. 1110-2-2502 is not a publication that would normally excite interest from the general population. But in the weeks and months ahead, as New Orleans struggles to rebuild from the floods of Hurricane Katrina, Section 4 of that Army Corps of Engineers book could be scrutinized intensely by city and state officials.
The manual sets the performance standards for, among other things, inland floodwalls: the kind the corps built along the city's drainage canals and that failed spectacularly during Katrina, flooding much of the city and leading to many of the 1,100 deaths thus far confirmed from the storm.
...Forensic engineers investigating the levee failures say the layman's translation of that section amounts to a "gotcha" clause for those who believe the walls failed through faulty design and not because they were overwhelmed by a storm that exceeded design limits.
"It says what every engineer knows: If you build walls to 14 feet, regardless of the design specifications for the expected storm -- 12 feet or 10 feet or 13 feet -- those walls must hold water to their tops," said J. David Rogers, a forensic engineer on the National Science Foundation team investigating the failures.
..."So, yeah, this was a human failure, not a natural disaster."
Since overtopping has been ruled out as the cause of failure along some canal walls, experts in and out of the corps have debated whether the water inside the failed floodwalls was higher than the 12.5 feet maximum listed as the design capacity. But Rogers and other engineers said Section 4b makes that discussion moot. Because the walls were built to 14 feet, to account for wave splash, any collapse below that level means the design failed.
"Their own manual makes it pretty clear this was a failure, " Rogers said, "although they might try to argue it was something else."
...But the debate continues, because the stakes are high. If the walls yielded to forces lower than their design specifications, the city will be on firmer moral and legal footing in asking Congress to pay for the all the property damaged and destroyed when the waters of Lake Pontchartrain poured into the city. If not, the government can say the cost should be borne by flood insurance and homeowners.
Much more at the link.
This page has pictures of the measures that various countries take to protect their coastlines from being flooded, ending with the New Orleans levee system. Point taken, but it's not exactly fair to blame the Army Corps of Engineers for fault that, once again, is shared by various levels of government as well as the public.
The Brookings Institute has an ongoing series that sounds more impressive than it turns out to be. However, here it is.
There she goes again with her conspiracies, but at least this time she's naming names:
SAN FRANCISCO - Senator Clinton told a largely friendly audience here Saturday night [1/28/06] that the slow pace of government-sponsored reconstruction following Hurricane Katrina was the result of a deliberate decision by the Bush administration and may have been motivated by a desire to discourage Democratic voters from returning to the devastated region.
"I think that basically we are now watching a deliberate policy of neglect take root," Mrs. Clinton said during an appearance at a fund-raiser for legal services charities. "It is deeply troubling for any American to believe that your government would abandon such a huge part of our country and such an important part of our history."
Mrs. Clinton said she suspected that the assignment of President Bush's top political adviser, Karl Rove, to oversee the relief effort indicated that political mischief was afoot. "Cynical minds might suggest that the destruction of the Democratic vote in Louisiana was a mixed blessing. If you rebuild New Orleans, all those Democrats might come home," she said during a 90-minute public interview conducted on an auditorium stage by a former television host, Jane Pauley.
A White House spokesman, Trent Duffy,rejected Mrs.Clinton's claims that the administration was intentionally foot-dragging on disaster recovery in the Gulf. "It's patently untrue and it's unfortunate she would suggest such a thing," he told The New York Sun yesterday...
She might indeed have a point, but it's obscured by her partisanship and the various other even further-left people who believe the same thing.
Has the pressure finally gotten to New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin? We already knew the answer, but for further proof:
NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) - Shortcomings in aid from the U.S. government are making New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin look to other nations for help in rebuilding his hurricane-damaged city.
Nagin, who has hosted a steady stream of foreign dignitaries since Hurricane Katrina hit in late August, says he may seek international assistance because U.S. aid has not been sufficient to get the city back on its feet.
"I know we had a little disappointment earlier with some signals we're getting from Washington but the international community may be able to fill the gap," Nagin said when a delegation of French government and business officials passed through on Friday to explore potential business partnerships.
Jordan's King Abdullah also visited New Orleans on Friday and Nagin said he would encourage foreign interests to help redevelop some of the areas hardest hit by the storm.
"France can take Treme. The king of Jordan can take the Lower Ninth Ward," he said, referring to two of the city's neighborhoods...