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Katrina’s lesson is one we should have learned before
Posted by: McQ on Tuesday, June 27, 2006

In our desire to help, in our race to respond, in our belief that throwing money at something will help and our seemingly unshakable trust in government's ability to do the job, we are now seeing how all of those reasons conspired to perpetrate one of the worst cases of inefficiency and fraud in our nation's history.

I'm speaking of our relief efforts in the wake of Katrina:
A hotel owner in Sugar Land, Tex., has been charged with submitting $232,000 in bills for phantom victims. And roughly 1,100 prison inmates across the Gulf Coast apparently collected more than $10 million in rental and disaster-relief assistance.

There are the bureaucrats who ordered nearly half a billion dollars worth of mobile homes that are still empty, and renovations for a shelter at a former Alabama Army base that cost about $416,000 per evacuee.

And there is the Illinois woman who tried to collect federal benefits by claiming she watched her two daughters drown in the rising New Orleans waters. In fact, prosecutors say, the children did not exist.
Each of these anecdotes is indicative of a system so broken and so inept that these things not only happened, but were enabled by the lack of organization and common sense checks some would think would have to be a part of any such effort.

It seems obvious that if someone made a claim, no matter whether the truth of it seemed improbable or outlandish, it was paid.

The individual fraud found in this disaster has been documented elsewhere. $2,000 debit cards which financed vactions, lap dances, sex change operations and designer handbags. But what of the government? How inept and unorganized can one be to waste money like this:
The $7.9 million spent to renovate the former Fort McClellan Army base in Anniston, Ala., included fixing up a welcome center, clinic and gymnasium, scrubbing away mold and installing a protective fence between the site and a nearby firing range. But when the doors finally opened, only about 10 people showed up each night, leading FEMA to shut down the shelter within one month.

The mobile homes, costing $34,500 each, were supposed to provide temporary housing to hurricane victims. But after Louisiana officials balked at installing them inland, FEMA had no use for them. Nearly half, or about 10,000, of the $860 million worth of units now sit at an airfield in Arkansas, where FEMA is paying $250,000 a month to store them.
People waiting months for promised trailers, some still not seeing them and 10,000 are sitting in a storage facility in Arkansas? How does that happen? And that is simply the tip of the inefficiency iceberg.

As we've mentioned, individual fraud was rampant. You expect some level of fraud in any such disaster. But 21%?!
The most recent audit came from the Government Accountability Office, which this month estimated that perhaps as much as 21 percent of the $6.3 billion given directly to victims might have been improperly distributed.
That is simply inexcusable.
"There are tools that are available to get money quickly to individuals and to get disaster relief programs running quickly without seeing so much fraud and waste," said Gregory D. Kutz, managing director of the forensic audits unit at the G.A.O. "But it wasn't really something that FEMA put a high priority on. So it was easy to commit fraud without being detected."
Uh, gee, no kidding. And it just wasn't FEMA who was fast and loose with disaster relief money. The American Red Cross, who's job is disaster relief, apparently forgot how to properly document and verify real disaster victims. Their neglegence helped enable fraud:
A program set up by the American Red Cross and financed by FEMA that provided free hotel rooms to Hurricane Katrina victims also resulted in extraordinary abuse and waste, investigators have found.

First, because the Red Cross did not keep track of the hundreds of thousands of recipients — they were only required to provide a ZIP code from the hurricane zone to check in — FEMA frequently sent rental assistance checks to people getting free hotel rooms, the G.A.O. found.
The article claims there have been larger examples of fraud in US history, which, of course, gives you that warm fuzzy feeling when you contemplate that little factoid. So what is the government doing about it?
R. David Paulison, the new FEMA director, said in an interview on Friday that much work had already been done to prevent such widespread fraud, including automated checks to confirm applicants' identities.

"We will be able to tell who you are, if you live where you said you do," Mr. Paulison said.

But Senator Collins said she had heard such promises before, including after Hurricane Frances in 2004 in which FEMA gave out millions of dollars in aid to Miami-Dade County residents, even though there was little damage.

Mr. Kutz said he too was not convinced that the agency was ready.

"I still don't think they fully understand the depth of the problem," he said.
I frankly don't think he has a clue. And, again, we see poor execution by an executive branch agency and minimal to no oversight by Congress.

Yet somehow, after repeated and obvious examples to the contrary, people still trust government to "do it right". I'll be darned if I can understand why.
 
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Comments
"People waiting months for promised trailers, some still not seeing them and 10,000 are sitting in a storage facility in Arkansas? How does that happen? And that is simply the tip of the inefficiency iceberg."

I read something awhile back that said this was not a FEMA problem but a local government problem. Apparently the building codes were changed in N.O. and either the electrical hookup or sewer hookup could not be completed to meet the new codes.

Sorry, no linky but it should be easy to google.
 
Written By: markm
URL: http://
Ah, it was electrical service problems http://outhouserag.typepad.com/hurricane_watch/2005/11/index.html
 
Written By: markm
URL: http://
This is why Dubya is SO infuriating to many of his voters/supporters..."When someone is hurting government must be there?" Really? And why? Money and the guv’mint AREN’T panacea’s yet Dubya acts AS IF, they are...or mayhap he really believes it.
I’m not an "An-Cap" by any means, but time after time, the Federal Government is tasked to "DO SOMETHING" and in the ensuing "doing" money gets wasted tremendously. Grrrrrrr....
 
Written By: Joe
URL: http://
It seems to me that these things must be more coordinated on the local level. The Feds should provide the "stuff" but it should be under local control (that is unless the locals prove to be even more unprepared than the Feds).
 
Written By: DCB
URL: http://
I live on the Mississippi coast. It didn’t make the national news as much as New Orleans, but the damage was great and widespread. Mississipi is getting it cleaned up much faster because of doing more locally and relying on the feds mostly for money. The only coastal county that had major problems with cleanup was contracting through the feds, all others contracted with private companies and cleanup went fairly smooth.

The "money grab" here was unbelievable. Long, long lines for FEMA and Red Cross money. Everyone seems to know at least one person who got in line, got their money, then drove to another town to get in another line. There were also many churches from across the country that came to help. The ones that volunteered labor helped a great deal, but the ones that handed out money were pretty much ripped off. Also, word got out that the feds were considering covering people with inadequate insurance and a few people actually cut trees to fall on their houses.

I think the biggest local result of this isn’t well known nationally. After Katrina unemployment went up. But there are jobs everywhere. There are still businesses here that are only open a few days a week because they can’t find enough employees. You can’t drive a block in the cities without seeing Help Wanted signs, even 60 miles inland. Some businesses closed because they couldn’t find help.

A lot of the people who aren’t working now are the ones that were in all the lines. I’ve heard of people getting as much as $40,000 and basically going on vacation. Some people got even more because of house insurance settlements. Instead of repairing their houses, they moved into the new FEMA trailers in their back yards and live off the "free" money rather than working.
 
Written By: Scout
URL: http://
Thanks for pointing out how incompetent this administration is. But then, anyone following the Iraq mess would know that, huh?

Oh no, that’s right, re the war incompetence, we’re supposed to “stay the course.”

I wish the right had some intellectual consistency.
 
Written By: Bob Griendling
URL: http://www.CommonwealthCommonsense.com
I live in the Greater New Orleans area. A huge percentage of the jobs in New Orleans proper are service industry jobs (I’m a restaurant owner). Supposedly, the reason service ind. people aren’t coming back is that there’s nowhere to live, but that’s not true - there are literally hundreds of listings for rental property right now, with more becoming available all the time. More people are coming back now for a simple reason: the free money is drying up. We call it "hurrication," or "FEMA-cation" around here. But there’s money to be made honestly here - if you’re willing to swing a hammer, grind stumps, float drywall, etc. - you can make your fortune, and that’s not hyperbole.

As far as the trailers, the biggest part of the hold up in New Orleans is that Ray Nagin wanted to put trailers where he wanted and the City Council blocked him b/c they each wanted to decide where in their individual districts where (not) to put these trailer parks. NIMBY, you know. Can’t say I blame them.

Which brings us to the fraud. Anyone who lives here knows that if you hand out debit cards to the sh*tbags in the Lower Ninth Ward and New Orleans East, they’re going to waste it on "bling". I’m glad most of them are still gone. They were sitting on their *sses waiting on their handouts before the storm, they can sit on their *sses just as effectively in Houston.
 
Written By: Jeff
URL: http://
It wouldn’t suprise me that after Pompeii, there were people claiming they got out of there in the nick of time, trying to grub money off of anyone who would give it to them...

Disasters bring out the best in some, and the worst in others.

I have to wonder if the increase in crime in some places of the country, can be traced back to some of those displaced during Katrina??
 
Written By: Keith, Indy
URL: http://
Thanks for pointing out how incompetent this administration is.
Did you perhaps mean the US Civil Service?
 
Written By: Mark A. Flacy
URL: http://
FEMA won’t set the trailers in a flood plain.

http://www.fema.gov/hazard/hurricane/2005katrina/direct_housing_asst.shtm
FLOODWAY: FEMA cannot install some units in areas identified as a floodway or high coastal hazard area. Also related somewhat to this is the placement of manufactured homes in the "100 year" flood zone or special flood hazard area (SFHA). Generally for sites identified as within the "100-year" flood zone, FEMA has installed travel trailers on those sites if everything else is feasible.

Consideration for the installation of manufactured homes within the "100 year" flood zone or special flood hazard area (SFHA) must include the identification and analysis of appropriate mitigation measures, approval from the local flood plain manager, and the availability of other feasible sites outside the "100-year" flood zone and/or SFHA.

Manufactured homes installed in the "100-year" flood zone area must be installed with all appropriate mitigation measures. These mitigation measures could potentially make the site in-feasible. Mitigation measures can include but is not limited to using more permanent piers, and installing the unit 12" above the flood elevation for the area.
I’m not suprised local building codes would prevent setting these up also. That whole one dweling unit per lot problem would crop up pretty quick in the Seattle area.
 
Written By: Ryan
URL: http://
I read something awhile back that said this was not a FEMA problem but a local government problem. Apparently the building codes were changed in N.O. and either the electrical hookup or sewer hookup could not be completed to meet the new codes.
What about Mississippi, Alabama and areas outside of N.O.?
 
Written By: McQ
URL: http://www.qando.net/blog
Notice your quote from the GAO: "The most recent audit came from the Government Accountability Office, which this month estimated that perhaps as much as 21 percent of the $6.3 billion given directly to victims might have been improperly distributed."

That doesn’t mean that all of it was necessarily lost to fraud, "improperly distributed" means that it was distributed outside of the scope of the government’s standard processes. My wife manages all of the National Emergency Grants for Katrina and Rita victims being administered via the Texas Workforce Commission, and she’s spent the last six months dealing with these types of issues. But just because the necessary paperwork wasn’t in place to properly distribute daycare vouchers, say, doesn’t mean that they weren’t actually given to bona fide hurricane victims in need.

Much of the aid for hurricane victims is being distributed ad hoc by state and local government agencies acting outside of the scope of their standard day to day roles. It is very difficult for most of them, because on the other side of the equation they are facing an overarching imperative to act in a timely way. As Lance once pointed out to me in a long ago political discussion on a school bus, people starve to death in the short term. If the government took most of what it takes to eliminate fraud, we would instead be reading and blogging about hurricane victims starving to death along the Gulf coast while living in their cars.

yours/
peter.
 
Written By: Peter Jackson
URL: http://www.liberalcapitalist.com
Next time all the talking heads are yelling to "DO SOMETHING!" maybe they should read this. Doing something quickly but half-arsed is worse for everyone than doing something deliberately but well.

 
Written By: shark
URL: http://
McQ in MY state, not a Katrina state, btw...but to put in a mass of trailers is NO SMALL UNDERTAKING. It requires a significant amount of water, power and sewer capacity, and on top of THAT there are legal/planning and zoning requirements, plus cynical common-sense thoughts and fears. So when FEMA proposes trailers, first the localities and the Fed’s have to find the site(s) with adedquate power, water and sewer capacities. Not easy in the first place. If the area could have handled an extra 2,000-10,000 residents, THEY’D ALREADY BE LIVING THERE. It’s not like a city or a county has excess power, water, and sewer capacity just "laying" around. In fact the feeder lines to a temporary site could be quite extensive and expensive and time-consuming to contruct.

Secondly, the area needs to be "zoned", if PnZ operates in that locality, for that sort of Residential housing. If it’s NOT a Zoning change must be granted. All this paperwork takes time. I’m not sure, in our state the PnZ statutes make no reference to emergencies, if the PnZ statutes ALLOW for emergency zone changes.

Finally, the locality may NOT DESIRE to allow the trailers in. In my state the manufacturers of trailers and other "manufactured" housing are CONSTANTLY seeking to amend the law to allow "manufactured" housing within city boundaries or in areas not usually allowing manufactured housing. Bottom-line: IF Two-Sticks Mississippi allows FEMA to put in a trailer park they may not be able to get rid of the trailer park, after the "emergency" has passed. So Two Stick Mississippi is loathe to allow trailers in at all, and CERTAINLY will drag their feet about the PnZ and life-safety issues involved. And AFTER the locality has run the lines to the "temporary" trailer park it would be stupid to throw the people out and let them lie unused. Developers AND local officials know this. So one group is all in favour of "helping" the displaced with trailers and the locals are not so keen on letting the trailers in.

Another Bottom-Line: Trailers as substitute housing were a SUB-OPTIMAL solution for a housing "crunch". Tent cities, porta-potties, and field kitchens would probably have been the better option for 90% of the displaced. FEMA stepped on it’s poncho, in not realizing this.

Again it falls under the rubric of "DOING SOMETHING", especially after the hysterical reporting from New Orleans in the wake of Katrina. It was better to be seen being busy than actually helping... and it’s not like it cost FEMA anything. In fact, spending a lot of money is a good way to ensure you have lots of money to spend next year.
 
Written By: Joe
URL: http://
After reading Peter’s comment, I wanted to clarify something in mine above it. I retold stories of fraud on the Mississippi coast, but most people here who got FEMA and Red Cross money used it the way it was intended and things may have been worse without it. Of course, there could have been better checks and measures for distributing it.

I’m not trying to defend FEMA in any way, but I do think it’s important to understand the scope of the problem when chastising them. Unless you were in the area and actually saw it, it is hard to understand the level of devastation. Many people understand the flooding and water damage that occured up to several miles inland, and the tremendous river flooding in New Orleans. But the entire Mississippi coast, from waterline up to 4 blocks in, was scrubbed clean by the storm surge. It is gone. I had seen it on TV and had a sense of what it would be, but it was nothing compared to driving along the coastline trying to find the highway buried under silt. You couldn’t even tell where you were in a developed metro area you’ve known all of your life because the landmarks have been erased.

People here have been asked by media if they were upset by the federal response, and some are. But many others, here in the middle of it, have wondered what more the feds could have done. The geographic area is immense — 1/2 mile inland, from Alabama to Texas, was all but erased from the face of the planet. It is hard to imagine how the feds could have been prepared for that. It’s easier now to understand how large an area can be affected, hopefully they will plan and learn from the mistakes.
 
Written By: Scout
URL: http://
McQ in MY state, not a Katrina state, btw...but to put in a mass of trailers is NO SMALL UNDERTAKING.
It’s been a year, Joe. It isn’t that large an undertaking.
 
Written By: McQ
URL: http://www.qando.net/blog
Joe,

There is some community pushback regarding trailers in Mississippi, but only in the urban areas. Mississippi does not have many of those.

A lot of government land has been used for trailers. The state parks are filled with them, some in 16th section land, and even some where the government still owned land near buffer zones around interstate ramps.

The problem with putting trailers in the urban areas is often as Joe described. Communities are concerned about property values if trailers move in nearby. There is no deadline or procedure for removing them after the emergency state is over. Stories are rampant here about other states where trailers were moved in years ago and never removed, with nearby property values plummeting.

But there is a lot of land outside urban areas here. I don’t know why that isn’t being used. Most of it is valuable timber, I can see problems there, but a lot is old farmland from decades ago. I’d think the family owners would be happy to lease it out for trailers since it isn’t being used.
 
Written By: Scout
URL: http://
Yes MCQ it IS...We may not be a Katrina state, but I can say that power, water and sewer lines are costly and time-consuming, and their construction is in ADDITION To the reconstruction work currently being undertaken. In fact, to construct them really requires the states and the Fed’s to OVER BUILD, as we are restoring McQ’s power in BFE Mississippi, but ALSO running waterlines for McQ in the trailer park in Two Sticks...This sort of infrastructure construction is major portion of any government’s bills at the end of the day.

And make no mistake it will be expensive, because the construction will have to meet health and safety code requirements, that aren’t likely to be waived, and if they are, bet on the NYT and LAT writing stories on the substandard water and the pollution and environmental damage done by slap-dash sewer construction. And add in a few horror stories of little tykes being electrocuted by the low-hanging, hastily installed electrical services. Oh and finally, sewer treatment and water treatment facilities have to be found and brought "on-line" for trailer parks, again we over-build because the goal is to get McQ back to his HOUSE in BFE, not leave him in the temporary shelter of Two Sticks, but we must have a sewer plant that works in BOTH places for McQ..

My point being that trailer parks were not really a good idea from the get go. But that the trailers were a visible sign that "Something was being done."
 
Written By: Joe
URL: http://
Most of it is valuable timber, I can see problems there, but a lot is old farmland from decades ago.
And there’s also beautiful Camp Shelby, etc.

In AL they had McClellan where they spent 8 mil for renovation and then never moved anyone there.

Etc.
 
Written By: McQ
URL: http://www.qando.net/blog
My point being that trailer parks were not really a good idea from the get go.
When it is available trailers or nothing, it’s an excellent idea.
But that the trailers were a visible sign that "Something was being done."
Agreed, but they certainly have a very utiltarian function as well and one which was in extremely short supply during this past year. So I’m afraid I have difficulty with reconciling "we have no place to live" and "trailer parks aren’t a good idea" in a time of disaster.
 
Written By: McQ
URL: http://www.qando.net/blog
Well depending on the location of the garrison, moving the displaced to a military post might have been the better idea. They are designed to hold large numbers of folks in a fairly dense haousing array... of course moving PFC Snuffy out of the barracks so that HE could live in a tent, might have evinced some interesting language.
 
Written By: Joe
URL: http://
Shelby is an NG training center (in use only at certain periods of time) and McClellan is closed.
 
Written By: McQ
URL: http://www.qando.net/blog
McQ I’ve tried to point out WHY trailers really AREN’T a viable short-term solution and have problems in the long-term. Because they require INDIVIDUAL hook-ups for infrastructure, they are NOT quick solutions to homelessness. Tent, port-a-potties, water buffaloes and Mess Halls ARE. They are ways of handling lots of folks in a short time, it’s why the military adopted them. As "little houses" trailers really aren’t in the same class, in fact they require the same sort of infrastructure AS a house or in this case a SUBDIVISION and so they weren’t a short-term solution. And many places didn’t want them because in the short-term they didn’t work and in the LONG-TERM they didn’t want them.

 
Written By: Joe
URL: http://
McQ, I haven’t heard any discussions here about Shelby being used for FEMA one way or the other. The range acreage is huge, though, as I’m sure you know. And it covers only a portion of the DeSoto National Forest, which could perhaps also hold people.

Shelby is currently in use — lots of booms going on around here, lots of gunship flyovers, lots of convoys on the highways. Also, I believe personnel have been shipping directly to Iraq out of Shelby.
 
Written By: Scout
URL: http://
Now that it’s hurricane season again, I’m waiting for all these trailers to be turned into aluminum missiles - I don’t think that 3/4" tie down strap is up to the job. Glad there’s none on my block.

 
Written By: Jeff
URL: http://
Now that it’s hurricane season again, I’m waiting for all these trailers to be turned into aluminum missiles - I don’t think that 3/4" tie down strap is up to the job.
Jeff reminds me of a side issue of the trailers that I haven’t heard discussed anywhere.

When a category 1 even hints at coming in this direction, I imagine the feds will make evactuation mandatory for FEMA trailer occupants, if for no other reason than they can’t take the PR disaster if someone is hurt while in one. Combine this with people still in homes who don’t want to go through it again and this is a lot of people. We have our evacuation routes with northward contraflow already set as default for the interstates and U.S. highways, but as with anyplace in the U.S., the road system just isn’t designed to move that many people quickly. I’m sure the resulting gridlock will make the national political news.
 
Written By: Scout
URL: http://
These trailers were huge - we got damn near run off the road by them when traveling through Mississippi a few weeks after Katrina.
They looked like double wides, not standard aluminum missiles.

They had FEMA, literally, written all over em as they went sailing by at 65-70
MPH (when we were trapped in the right lane, later followed by us sailing by them at a, um, slightly higher speed)
 
Written By: looker
URL: http://
Shelby is currently in use — lots of booms going on around here, lots of gunship flyovers, lots of convoys on the highways. Also, I believe personnel have been shipping directly to Iraq out of Shelby.
As you note, it’s a huge place and there’d be plenty of room to put some trailer villages in on an interim basis.

I guess what I’m getting at is there doesn’t seem to have been much of an effort to get those 10,000 trailers out there when they were needed.
 
Written By: McQ
URL: http://www.qando.net/blog
McQ I’ve tried to point out WHY trailers really AREN’T a viable short-term solution and have problems in the long-term.
I know you have been trying to point that out, and I’ve been trying to make the point that I’m not buying into your argument. They don’t call them "disasters" for nothing. While tents, portapotties and mess tents may sound wonderful, they’re not even a good short term solution in reality, especially when you’re talking about families.
 
Written By: McQ
URL: http://www.qando.net/blog
Whatever McQ let us end this all together typical QandO debate of trivia... we agree that FEMA made some errors in operations, most likely in order to be seen as "doing something" whether or no the "something" helped or not.
 
Written By: Joe
URL: http://
I was suprised that nobody mentioned where the trailers were being stored: Hope, Arkansas. Slick Willie comes through again!
 
Written By: Chaseler
URL: http://

 
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