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FEMA ignored most charges of fraud

The Sun-Sentinel lists several cases where FEMA refused to follow-up charges of fraud. Here's an example:

The head of the Wilmington Housing Authority, Quattlebaum wrote to FEMA's inspector general after Hurricane Isabel that year, expressing concern that tenants were getting money when the authority knew of no damage to its buildings.
"Since we are the landlord for over 1,400 public housing units, we are concerned that `the system' not be abused and that if our residents did indeed suffer damage, why we are not aware of that damage," he wrote.
Quattlebaum asked for the identities of the tenants who submitted claims, but FEMA denied the request, citing confidentiality rules.
"We could not understand why FEMA did not coordinate with the housing authority to certify or verify these claims,'' Quattlebaum said in an interview with the Sun-Sentinel. "We were told that they [FEMA] had their own procedures and they have independent inspectors that went out and verified -- supposedly verified -- these claims."

"Hundreds of millions paid to people untouched by disasters"

The South Florida Sun-Sentinel found that FEMA gave over $300 million to communities that had little or no damage from natural disasters:

$5.2 million to Los Angeles area residents for the 2003 wildfires that burned more than 25 miles away.
$168.5 million to Detroit residents for a 2000 rainstorm that the then-mayor doesn't even remember.
$21.6 million in clothing losses alone to Cleveland-area residents for a 2003 storm that brought less than an inch and a half of rain...
In Cleveland's recreation centers, barbershops and day care centers, residents said people hauled old clothes and furniture into their basements and told FEMA the items were damaged by flooding from the 2003 storm. City officials documented 73 homes with minor damage, yet the federal government gave 28,500 Cleveland area residents $41.4 million...

Money for levees went to Mardi Gras, overpasses, PI, legal fees...

The article "Is the Orleans Levee Board doing its job?" would be funny if it weren't so disturbing.
- $2.4 million on the Mardi Gras Fountain...
- $15 million for overpasses to Bally's riverboat casino...
- $45,000 for "private investigators to dig up dirt on radio host and board critic Robert Namer"...
- $45,000 on the settlement after Namer sued...

Critics charge, for years, the board has paid more attention to marinas, gambling and business than to maintaining the levees. As an example: of 11 construction projects now on the board's Web site, only two are related to flood control.
"I assure you," says Levee Board President Jim Huey, "that you will find that all of our money was appropriately expended."
Huey says money for the levees comes from a different account than money for business activities and that part of the board's job is providing recreational opportunities.
And despite the catastrophic flooding, Huey says, "As far as the overall flood protection system, it's intact, it's there today, it worked. In 239 miles of levees, 152 floodgates, and canals throughout this entire city, there was only two areas."
But those two critical areas were major canals and their collapse contributed to hundreds of deaths and widespread destruction.

Whether the Board could have done anything about the floodwalls that failed will probably be determined later.
UPDATE: Huey has resigned, and "AG Foti: fmr. Levee Board president Jim Huey broke law".

Corruption in LA's emergency planning agency

From "Louisiana Officials Indicted Before Katrina Hit":

Senior officials in Louisiana's emergency planning agency already were awaiting trial over allegations stemming from a federal investigation into waste, mismanagement and missing funds when Hurricane Katrina struck.
And federal auditors are still trying to track as much as $60 million in unaccounted for funds that were funneled to the state from the Federal Emergency Management Agency dating back to 1998.
In March, FEMA demanded that Louisiana repay $30.4 million to the federal government...

See also "Levee corruption: flashback to Nov 29 2004".

Krugman: Not the New Deal

No one really cares, but:

Now it begins: America's biggest relief and recovery program since the New Deal. And the omens aren't good.
It's a given that the Bush administration, which tried to turn Iraq into a laboratory for conservative economic policies, will try the same thing on the Gulf Coast. The Heritage Foundation, which has surely been helping Karl Rove develop the administration's recovery plan, has already published a manifesto on post-Katrina policy. It calls for waivers on environmental rules, the elimination of capital gains taxes and the private ownership of public school buildings in the disaster areas. And if any of the people killed by Katrina, most of them poor, had a net worth of more than $1.5 million, Heritage wants to exempt their heirs from the estate tax...
...And aside from the effect on the deficit - we're about to see the spectacle of tax cuts in the face of both a war and a huge reconstruction effort - this raises another question: how can discretionary government spending take place on that scale without creating equally large-scale corruption?
...[For the expected reasons,] Mr. Bush's promise last night that he will have "a team of inspectors general reviewing all expenditures" rings hollow. Whoever these inspectors general are, they'll be mindful of the fate of Bunnatine Greenhouse, a highly regarded auditor at the Army Corps of Engineers who suddenly got poor performance reviews after she raised questions about Halliburton's contracts in Iraq. She was demoted late last month...
...And our sympathy for the people of Mississippi and Louisiana shouldn't blind us to the realities of their states' political cultures...

OK, you're saying, "I somewhat agree with Paul Krugman about the Bush administration allowing corruption and cronyism." But, here's where you will probably disagree:

Is there any way Mr. Bush could ensure an honest recovery program? Yes - he could insulate decisions about reconstruction spending from politics by placing them in the hands of an autonomous agency headed by a political independent, or, if no such person can be found, a Democrat (as a sign of good faith).

FEMA evacuation study money redirected to bridge study

Congress wanted FEMA to create an evacuation plan for New Orleans as early as eight years ago. Instead, the money ended up going to a study of a bridge over Lake Pontchartrain, and that study had very little to do with an evacuation plan. ("Money Earmarked for Evacuation Redirected").
The exact twists and turns of the money have yet to be determined.

...Congress in 1997 to set aside $500,000 for FEMA to create "a comprehensive analysis and plan of all evacuation alternatives for the New Orleans metropolitan area."
Frustrated two years later that nothing materialized, Congress strengthened its directive. This time it ordered "an evacuation plan for a Category 3 or greater storm, a levee break, flood or other natural disaster for the New Orleans area."
The $500,000 that Congress appropriated for the evacuation plan went to a commission that studied future options for the 24-mile bridge over Lake Ponchartrain, FEMA spokesman Butch Kinerney said.
The hefty report produced by the Greater New Orleans Expressway Commission "primarily was not about evacuation," said Robert Lambert, the general manager for the bridge expressway. "In general it was an overview of all the things we need to do" for the causeway through 2016.
Lambert said he could not trace how or if FEMA money came to the commission. Nor could Shelby LaSalle, a causeway consulting engineer who worked on the plan.
LaSalle said it would be "ludicrous" to consider his report an evacuation plan, although it had a transportation evacuation section, dated Dec. 19, 1997. That part was tacked on mainly to promote the causeway for future designation as an official evacuation route, LaSalle said.
"We didn't do anything for FEMA," he added...

James Lee Witt's spokesman claims that FEMA just passed the money through to the state.

[Former Rep. Billy Tauzin, R-La] said he, too, could never find out where the money went. "They gave it to the causeway commission? That's wacky," he said.
At the time eight years ago, the Louisiana delegation had plenty of political muscle to get the money. Then-Rep. Bob Livingston, R-La., was chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, which controls the government's purse strings.
Livingston, now a lobbyist, said he could not explain what happened either, although he knew of other predictive hurricane studies over the years.

Big Oil increased likelihood of damage?

This article contains the following unconfirmed information:

...Our levees flooded largely because we stupidly came to rely on the Federal Government to fix them for us. Our coastline's destroyed because of a curious deal, orchestrated by the Federal Government, allowing Big Oil to cut numerous waterways. Big Oil cut canals wider than any of our natural bayous, with neither levee nor shoal protecting adjoining lands, so Big Oil's barges dragging drilling platforms and pipelines could head straight out to the Gulf of Mexico. By law and contract, Big Oil was required to restore our coast to its natural condition by filling in the dredged canals and replanting the marsh. A tedious task, but far from impossible.
When Big Oil laughed us off, we stupidly appealed to the Federal Government for $14 billion to fix it for us...

Is your local FEMA director competent or a political hack?

The Seattle Times reports that "Local FEMA chief had little disaster experience". While I'm not expecting much, due to partisanship perhaps they'll shine a similar light on the FEMA directors and staff in their areas. From the article:

John Pennington, the official in charge of federal disaster response in the Northwest, was a four-term Republican state representative who ran a mom-and-pop coffee company in Cowlitz County when then-Congresswoman Jennifer Dunn helped him get his federal post.
Before he was appointed regional director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Pennington got a degree from a correspondence school that government investigators later described as a "diploma mill."
Pennington, 38, says he worked for his degree and he is qualified for the FEMA job...

Cashing in on Katrina

From "In Storm's Ruins, a Rush to Rebuild and Reopen for Business":

Private contractors, guided by two former directors of the Federal Emergency Management Agency and other well-connected lobbyists and consultants, are rushing to cash in on the unprecedented sums to be spent on Hurricane Katrina relief and reconstruction.
From global engineering and construction firms like the Fluor Corporation and Halliburton to local trash removal and road-building concerns, the private sector is poised to reap a windfall of business in the largest domestic rebuilding effort ever undertaken...
Some experts warn that the crisis atmosphere and the open federal purse are a bonanza for lobbyists and private companies and are likely to lead to the contract abuses, cronyism and waste that numerous investigations have uncovered in post-war Iraq...

From the Bush administration? Never!

...Joe M. Allbaugh, a close friend of President Bush, the president's 2000 campaign manager and the FEMA director from 2001 to 2003, and James Lee Witt, an Arkansan close to former President Bill Clinton and a former FEMA director, are now high-priced consultants, and they have been offering their services to companies seeking or holding federal contracts in the post-hurricane gold rush...

Scales fall from Rod Dreher's eyes

Referring to cronyism at FEMA, Rod Dreher says:

This is a scandal, a real scandal. How is it possible that four years after 9/11, the president treats a federal agency vital to homeland security as a patronage prize? The main reason I've been a Bush supporter all along is I trusted him (note past tense) on national security -- which, in the age of mass terrorism, means homeland security too. Call me naive, but it's a real blow to learn that political hacks have been running FEMA, of all agencies of the federal government! What if al-Qaeda had blown the New Orleans levees? How much worse would the crony-led FEMA's response have been? Would conservatives stand for any of this for one second if a Democrat were president? If this is what Republican government means, God help the poor GOP Congressmen up for re-election in 2006.

Here's more on this topic from Bush-supporting hack Instapundit.

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