Sunday, December 17, 2006

FEMA at work ...

From an AP story carried by WTOL-TV, based on a Government Accountability Office report:

The government is squandering tens of millions of dollars in Hurricane Katrina disaster aid, in some cases doling out housing payments to people living rent-free, investigators said Wednesday. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has recouped less than 1 percent of the $1 billion that investigators contend it squandered on fraudulent assistance, according to the GAO.

Its report shows the disaster relief agency's struggles, one year after the deadly storm, to rush aid to those in need while also preventing abuse. Potential waste and fraud include the following:

• Nearly $17 million in rental assistance payments to individuals living in trailers also paid for with FEMA funds.

• Rental assistance payments to individuals living in apartments paid by city governments using FEMA funds.

• Nearly $20 million to about 7,600 individuals who registered for assistance for both Hurricanes Katrina and Rita using the same property.

• Millions of dollars of payments to nonqualified people, including at least $3 million to more than 500 foreign students from four universities in Louisiana and Texas. FEMA also made improper payments to workers in the United States on temporary visas, people who are barred by law from receiving financial disaster assistance.

• The loss of 85 laptop computers, printers, global positioning devices and two flat-bottom boats because of poor inventory controls.

FEMA spokesman Pat Philbin did not challenge the findings. He did say the agency has sought to upgrade the registration process and strengthen its procedures for verifying names and addresses. "FEMA continues to focus our rebuilding efforts to greatly improve our reliability, accuracy and response in providing aid to disaster victims," Philbin said. "The agency will consider and evaluate any new findings."

Sen. Susan Collins, who heads the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, lamented the waste. "Just think of the additional relief and rebuilding that could be accomplished with the money lost to fraud, mismanagement and poor decision-making," said Collins, R-Maine. "We can't wait for yet another disaster to hit and yet another round of investigations and hearings to spotlight once again the lack of safeguards and internal controls," she said.

Connecticut Sen. Joseph Lieberman, who will become committee chairman when Democrats take control of the Senate in January, said FEMA will be watched closely for signs of improvement. "The record is clear that, going forward, FEMA has much work to do before we can be confident that it is providing assistance to those who are eligible and who need it, while denying it to those who do not," he said.


jbv's Competitive Edge 


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