DisgracefulFEMA’s documented waste is nauseating|OUR OPINION

Published 12:00 am Sunday, September 14, 2008

Don’t have to tell anyone in Vicksburg. In these parts and especially to our south, the “efficiency” of the Federal Emergency Management Agency in responding to Hurricane Katrina was and to a degree still is a national tragedy all by itself.

Now a report by the Homeland Security Department — and FEMA is a subsidiary of Homeland Security — details mismanagement in the multibillion-dollar operation FEMA staged over the past few years. This report, just another in a series, shows $1 billion “Gone with the Wind” with no direct beneficial effect for the people suffering in the storm’s aftermath.

The review highlighted housing contracts awarded without competition to Shaw Group Inc., Bechtel Group Inc., CH2M Hill Companies Ltd. and Fluor Corp. It said FEMA wasted at least $45.9 million on the four contracts initially worth $400 million to the companies. FEMA subsequently raised the total amounts for the four contracts twice, both times without competition, to $2 billion and then $3 billion.

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The message from FEMA was, implicitly, “Send us a bill. No matter how stupid, outrageous, unsupported or undocumented, we’ll pay it.”

Responding to the accusation it was totally indifferent to the public’s money, FEMA said it generally agreed with the report and would further investigate the $45.9 million in questioned costs and recoup the money as necessary. Don’t bet on it.

Katrina was an unprecedented disaster. FEMA was a cobbled-together Homeland Security Department created after 9/11. Its preparations had focused on responding to terror attacks. After the storm, there was a need to bring “assets to bear” as quickly as possible, with the cost being a secondary consideration.

But despite all those excuses, there is no justification of the abysmal lack of organization, consistency or oversight we have all witnessed. Initial reports are FEMA has “done better” with Gustav. That’s good, but it presumes the agency could have done worse than it did after Katrina. Frankly, we don’t think that’s possible.