Monday, September 19, 2005

FEMA: A Legacy of Waste, Part II

When it comes to grabbing federal funds under the cloak of disaster, politicians of every stripe are there. More on the story from the Sun-Sentinel:

Assistance designed to help those struck by disaster has also become a tool for politicians to bring home prized federal dollars and a windfall to residents in some of the nation’s poorest communities.

In between are privately contracted damage inspectors with little incentive to safeguard the public purse.

The system is fueled by an unlimited budget — if the money runs out, the Federal Emergency Management Agency returns to Congress for more.

Everyone benefits, a South Florida Sun-Sentinel investigation found, except taxpayers footing the bill.

In the name of helping disaster victims, FEMA over five years awarded at least $330 million in areas with little or no damage, the newspaper found. While aid has legitimately flowed to thousands of people who lost their homes or belongings to fires, floods and hurricanes, thousands more have abused the system.

“It’s an absolute abomination,” said U.S. Rep. Mark Foley, R-Jupiter. “Whether intentional corruption or mismanagement … it seems like FEMA is just a money pit.”

Outrage over $31 million to residents of Miami-Dade County last year for a hurricane that missed the county called national attention to fraud and waste in FEMA assistance. But the problem has evolved over years in cities across the country, the newspaper found.

It all starts with the federal disaster declaration, the first step to start the money flowing — a process heavily influenced by politics.

Once disaster strikes, however small, politicians from mayors to governors to members of Congress pressure FEMA for a declaration and then boast about bringing money home.

Part I is here.

Ironically, all those in favor of “small government” usually keep their mouths shut until the check clears.