Hey, How's the Recovery Effort Going?

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Sure, the post-Katrina aid effort was looking bleak for a while. But after all the excoriating media coverage, damning GAO reports, and general finger-pointing, humiliated officials rushed to diminish—or at least mask—the stench of noxious government waste. Right? GAO hips us to some fun facts in the ongoing fraud-fest:

The government continues to waste tens of millions of dollars in its Hurricane Katrina relief efforts, including giving rent checks to evacuees already living in free housing and student aid to ineligible foreigners, U.S. investigators said Wednesday.

The Government Accountability Office also found that the Federal Emergency Management Agency has been able to recoup only $7 million of the more than $1 billion in improper payments identified by investigators months ago.

Full report here.

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  1. The worst part is that the “lesson” that the country will take from this is that the government didn’t do enough…both directly after the hurricane and longer-term afterward.

    What I want to know is, if they can’t even get the “handing out free tax dollars to people” part right, what makes anyone think that they could get anything else right…say, the evacuation or rescue effort?

    The lesson we should take from this is that government is inefficient, crooked, inbred and woefully incompetent. But we won’t. As with everything else, our collective conscience will conclude something along the lines of “if what we’re doing isn’t working, then let’s do MORE of what isn’t working, and maybe, after we do enough non-working things, it’ll start to work”.

  2. These stories have it all backwards to me. As a percentage of total spending, the fraud is pretty low. If $1 billion of fraudulent payouts is a travesty, the much larger travesty is that this is actually a pretty reasonable amount, in percentage terms.

  3. Evan:
    Next time we will make sure to give a solid gold mansion, a cotton-candy machine and a pony to everyone from the affected area. Of course, they will only have to “double spit promise” they are from the area. We won’t do anything wasteful like spend a lot on making sure they need the aid.

  4. To quote Reagan:. “The ten scariest words in the English language are ‘I’m from the federal government and I’m here to help'”

  5. Let’s see.

    I’m Canadian living in Canada.

    I live on the opposite edge of the continent from New Orleans.

    In fact, I’ve never been within 800 miles of New Orleans.

    I’ve never seen a hurricane.

    Do you think I could get a FEMA grant for Katrina relief?

  6. Aresen,

    Get someone at the NYT, TNR or The Nation to write a story about how bad society has treated you.

    If you need some practice on being downtrodden, visit Seattle and ask around.

  7. People smarter than a piece of granite knew that a hurricane flooded New Orleans was a certainty. They didn’t want to pay for flood insurance. They didn’t want to relocate. You and I are supposed to pay for this? This sounds like a job for private charities. As a taxpayer, I think we should have sent one (1) Get Well Soon card and be done with it.

  8. Arsen,

    Whatever your problems they are clearly George Bush’s fault and the result of his hating of poor minority people. Clearly, Congress needs to throw a few billion dollars in pointless aide your way to make amends.

  9. And I still haven’t heard a peep over how rebuilding NO is flat out stupid to begin with.

  10. Do you think I could get a FEMA grant for Katrina relief?

    Probably.

  11. “The lesson we should take from this is that government is inefficient, crooked, inbred and woefully incompetent. But we won’t.”

    Well said Evan , well said.

  12. I was in Houston last May and the local news had a story about Katrina evacuees whose power had been shut off because FEMA has screwed up and not paid the bill. Here were these perfectly healthy looking people who had been given a place to live and 8 months of government dole in a large American city that has an unemployment rate of about 4% and they still didn’t have a job and were depending on FEMA to take care of them. It was at that point, if I had been king, I would have cut off every dime of aid relating to Katrina. The whole thing is just rediculous. Yes, we should help people, but that desire to help people shouldn’t translate into giving people an endless free ride. At some point bad things happen and it is no longer the government’s problem to fix them.

  13. Government…the agency that so many expect to save us from all manner of evil.

  14. Being against government aid in general, I am especially appalled at a FEDERAL program for this kind of thing. More than 90% of the country lives in areas that could never be hit with this kind of disaster. But we all pay for the people who live on the coast to continue living there every time an “unpredictable” disaster like this comes up.

    What if people actually got insurance? Or assuming people are too stupid and wasteful to do that, what if the LOCAL and maybe even State government had a relief and rescue plan in place? Why should people in Iowa pay for hurricane relief?

  15. The lesson we should take from this is that government is inefficient, crooked, inbred and woefully incompetent.

    Bad logic to assume that just because a government headed by George W. Bush and cronies is poorly run that all governments are poorly run.

  16. As a taxpayer, I think we should have sent one (1) Get Well Soon card and be done with it.

    And as a fellow taxpayer I think it’s a good thing your type of thinking is relegated to the loony fringe.

  17. Along the Mississippi in Wisconsin back in the 80’s we had massive flooding. Some cities were a total loss. The US Government refused to re-build the old cities. They made all the people relocate to higher ground. They very slowly like explained to the fine people that living in a normal flood zone is stupid. The nice people in Wisconsin complied and moved entire towns to higher ground. Why isn’t that type of thinking still being used? No second chances—if you live in a stupid place and refuse to move and your crap gets wet-to bad so sad.

  18. And as a fellow taxpayer I think it’s a good thing your type of thinking is relegated to the loony fringe.

    We shouldn’t hold the people responsible for their own (bad) decisions? You know, we’re going to get a badass blizzard here in Detroit. Not tomorrow, but it’s going to happen. Anyone smarter than a turnip knows this. It will kill some people, it will cost people money. The feds shouldn’t do a DAMN THING when it happens.

  19. At least the Federal Government saved all of us a lot of tax money by not properly maintaining the levees around New Orleans!

  20. We shouldn’t hold the people responsible for their own (bad) decisions? You know, we’re going to get a badass blizzard here in Detroit. Not tomorrow, but it’s going to happen. Anyone smarter than a turnip knows this. It will kill some people, it will cost people money. The feds shouldn’t do a DAMN THING when it happens.

    I disagree. If people need help, especially in an emergency, the government should provide it to them. How mean-spirited do you have to be to truly think otherwise?

  21. If people need help, especially in an emergency, the government should provide it to them. How mean-spirited do you have to be to truly think otherwise?

    The governments job is to allow poeople to take care of themselves, not take care of them. There is never, ever, going to be a shortage of “emergencies”. They sorta come with life. If realizing this obvious fact qualifies me as mean spirited, so be it.

  22. Dan T says: “Bad logic to assume that just because a government headed by George W. Bush and cronies is poorly run that all governments are poorly run.”

    Giant leap of faith by you to assume that any federal government run by whomever you’d chose could have done much better.

    Most of the damage done was due to levees being breached, not the hurricane itself. The Army Corps of Engineers had built the levees without a proper foundation for the moorings long before the Bush admin was around.

    I will say that if had happenned under a Dem admin, they wouldn’t have been accused of racism in their poor response. It would of course been due to underfunding of some government agency/program or another.

  23. doubled

    Request for supplimentary authorization, preamble:

    “Infinite funding was granted for the project. Unfortunately, this has not proved sufficient.”

    [Swiped from “The Journal of Irreproducible Results”.}

  24. Before the hurricane came the government put out a warning that the end of the world was about to hit New Orleans because the water would pour over the levees and fill up the bowl. The levees would presumably be blown up to lower the water level back to normal sea level. (The internet howled about how this was an overreaction. That howling didn’t stop until about a day after Katrina hit.)

    Now the federal government has decided to rebuild the levees so that New Orleans can once again be destroyed in this end of the world scenario, which is more likely as sea levels rise and New Orleans sinks.

  25. My daughters pet rabbit died. To you this may seem like no big deal but it is Earth shattering to her.
    I think the government should step in and make every American pitch in and help my daughter in her 20 years of need.

  26. opps

    her next 20 years of need.

  27. Dan T:

    A) Should the US help people who live in dangerous regions escape and provide basic life necessities until they establish themselves elsewhere (whether as productive citizens or new city’s welfare problem)?

    B) Should the US help the people of New Orleans rebuild their disaster-prone city with taxpayer dollars, despite the continuing elevated risk relative to other cities?

    C) Should the US provide healthcare to people suffering from illnesses related to past behavior (chronic heart disease, diabetes, AIDS, emphysema)?

    D) Should the US provide unbiased healthcare coverage to people who continue to engage in risky behavior (smoking, eating — gasp! — trans fats, unprotected sexual intercourse) while also taking no steps to ban that behavior?

    Just curious whether or not you are a hypocrite.

  28. One day in the House of Representatives a bill was taken up appropriating money for the benefit of a widow of a distinguished naval officer. Several beautiful speeches had been made in its support. The speaker was just about to put the question when Crockett arose:

    “Mr. Speaker–I have as much respect for the memory of the deceased, and as much sympathy for the suffering of the living, if there be, as any man in this House, but we must not permit our respect for the dead or our sympathy for part of the living to lead us into an act of injustice to the balance of the living. I will not go into an argument to prove that Congress has not the power to appropriate this money as an act of charity. Every member on this floor knows it.

    We have the right as individuals, to give away as much of our own money as we please in charity; but as members of Congress we have no right to appropriate a dollar of the public money. Some eloquent appeals have been made to us upon the ground that it is a debt due the deceased. Mr. Speaker, the deceased lived long after the close of the war; he was in office to the day of his death, and I ever heard that the government was in arrears to him.

    “Every man in this House knows it is not a debt. We cannot without the grossest corruption, appropriate this money as the payment of a debt. We have not the semblance of authority to appropriate it as charity. Mr. Speaker, I have said we have the right to give as much money of our own as we please. I am the poorest man on this floor. I cannot vote for this bill, but I will give one week’s pay to the object, and if every member of Congress will do the same, it will amount to more than the bill asks.”

    He took his seat. Nobody replied. The bill was put upon its passage, and, instead of passing unanimously, as was generally supposed, and as, no doubt, it would, but for that speech, it received but few votes, and, of course, was lost.

    Later, when asked by a friend why he had opposed the appropriation, Crockett gave this explanation: …

    Davy Crockett – Not yours to Give

  29. Anybody fucking stupid enough to live in a flood plain deserves what he gets.

  30. I actually have some semblance of sympathy for FEMA. They are in a tight spot. One one end, they are shithammered by the left for “not doing enough”. Then they are pounded by the right for wasting money in the hand-out frenzy.

    It would be great if there were an independent commission that investigated all the fraud, and identified all the thousands who robbed the taxpayer. Any welfare dependents would be penalized the amounts that they stole in future hand-outs (and the able-bodied are put on work details). And any businesses that cheated on their contracts would be fined.

  31. Any report about the Federal response to Katrina that doesn’t begin with the words “Despite the pre-storm deployment of thousands of FEMA medical rescure personnel and extensive preplanning of a coordinated response between the Federal, state and local govenments” is just simply dishonest.

    That said, I tend to take a Sam Kinnison view of disaster relief, that is give them a way to pack up their stuff and move. “Sand! It’s Sand! You can’t live here! Aaaargh!”.

  32. I find no warrant for such an appropriation in the Constitution, and I do not believe that the power and the duty of the General Government ought to be extended to the relief of individual suffering which is in no manner properly related to the public service or benefit.

    The friendliness and charity of our countrymen can always be relied upon to relieve their fellow citizens in misfortune. This has been repeatedly and quite lately demonstrated. Federal aid in such cases encourages the expectation of paternal care on the part of the Government and weakens the sturdiness of our national character, while it prevents the indulgence among our people of that kindly sentiment and conduct which strengthens the bonds of a common brotherhood.

    I see that my prediction of the destructive effects of so-called charity and relief provided by the Federal Government are not falsified by the events of the last dozen decades.

  33. The government is now being run by people who have no interest in having the government run well.

    Good job, anti-government agitators. Thank God we didn’t have Al Gore filling FEMA with a bunch of goo-goo squares.

    You’re reaping what you’ve sown. Let’s get the grownups in charge again.

  34. Joe,

    The lesson that you should learn from katrina is that large government programs like flood control and the army corps of engineers are often bipartisan ineffective boondoggles.

    The Katrina disaster had its roots as a corp of engineers failure not a fema failure. If the levees had not failed New Orleans residents would have patched their roofs and moved on. The levees that failed were constructed over a number of decades under both republican and democrat control in washington dc.

    An interesting article from an engineer who lives in new orleans

    That whole “unforeseeable combination of events” line would be more believable if the Corps of engineers had not -themselves- tested the floodwalls and had them fail 20 years ago in the exact same manner they claimed last week was “unforeseeable.”

    That’s right. The U. S. Army Corps of Engineers KNEW 20 years ago the design was faulty and they used it anyway. Then they lied (cough again cough) to cover it up.

    Do a search on levees on the site linked above lots of interesting stuff. Very little that supports the idea that having a different political party in office would have made any difference in the situation.

  35. TJIT,

    That is certainly one lesson – especially if you highlight the phrase “are often.”

    My point: it’s a good idea to highlight the distinctions between those that are and those that are not, rather than blur them. If you do, you end up making de facto excuses for the people who don’t even try to treat their jobs as anything but sources of graft.

    And while you are right that there are a lot of “couldas” that would have made a competent FEMA unimportant in this case, there always are. Nonetheless, there are going to be disasters. Nature’s a bitch that way, and don’t even get me started on Man.

    Let’s call distaster prevention Plan A. I still believe having a decent Plan B, and the capability to make it work, is an important function of government.

  36. Quote from the article regarding corps of engineer lab tests 20 years ago that indicated the levee design in new orleans was likely to fail.

    The results of those experiments were widely circulated among corps officials, the foundation engineers said. Further, the researchers involved in the test alerted the New Orleans District, which was overseeing the design of the area’s hurricane floodwalls, that its study suggested the need to find new methods to “analyze both the soils supporting the sheet piling and concrete floodwalls, and the sheet pile/floodwalls themselves,” the foundation statement said.

  37. Do you think I could get a FEMA grant for Katrina relief?

    Hawaii has an Interstate Highway.

    At least the Federal Government saved all of us a lot of tax money by not properly maintaining the levees around New Orleans!

    So where in all the time since the levees were built is your example of a Federal, State of Louisiana, or City of New Orleans government better on this issue than the current Bush regime, given that none of them even tried to solve the problem?

  38. Are you talking to me, Larry A?

    If so, I don’t know.

    My point was about the federal emergency response under the “leadership” of Brownie, Chertoff, and Bush. It was vastly inferior to how the organization was run previous to the Bush administration.

  39. joe:

    You’re full of it.

    Are you saying that FEMA somehow magically became a crap agency the moment Junior took office?

    I’ve known a lot of federal first-responders through the years, and the FEMA horror stories (even during your hero Clinton’s admin) are unending.

    I’m no Bush fan by a long shot, but I wonder who you guys are going to blame for every single conceivable malady once Junior is gone.

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