Government Spending

Fishy FEMA Follies


Columnist Ron Hart looks at a weird fish tale stinking up the joint down in New Orleans:

So FEMA gives New Orleans $616,849 and, as government does, tells them exactly which favored commercial vendors to use to buy the fish….

To New Orleans Aquarium's credit, or in an isolated outbreak of quasi-government gumption, they got tired of waiting for the money to open the "linchpin of the city's tourism" attraction. Apparently, their need to get their aquarium-based economy back up and running to recoup lost revenues pronto made them less government-dependent.

So staff members went out and just caught all the fish. It cost only $99,766, less than one-sixth of the government's carefully padded earmark appropriation. They turned in the expense receipts to FEMA, but, instead of getting a slap on the back and the accolade that they were "doing a heckuva job," the feds did not pay.

Both sides lawyered up and the case has so far been in litigation for 17 months, expenses undisclosed.

More here.

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  1. “How dare you not spend the allocated money! You just proved that it was a pork-laden bunch of horseshit!”

  2. This is one serious problem that mechanism design has not figured out, yet. How do you systematically reward government employees and vendors for saving you money? Monetary rewards have consistently resulted in system gaming and subpar results, with the added bonus that the bean counters punish future efforts by planned underspending based on the bogus effort.

    In the private sector, subjective evaluation and rewards appear to encourage money saving fairly well, but subjective evaluation is much more problematic in government work.

  3. Bah! I failed to address the article at hand and I implied that it was bogus. Sorry. This is an exception that proves the rule. Government employees used their own initiative to serious save money with a truly effective effort, and they got kicked in the nads by the government entity who said that they’d pick up the tab.

  4. Rimfax,

    In this case it seems obvious that the goal of the money was not to restock the aquarium, but the line the pockets of campaign contributors.

  5. I’m going to bill FEMA for Ron Hart making me spew my coffee on the monitor. That’s where the $849 came from.

    Seriously, it’s crap like this that makes me unable to recall single examples of the insane level of just complete state boobosity when someone on the “other” side demands one. They all just blur together into one giant clusterfuck of kleptomanic incompetence.

  6. Eh, we’ve already well established the fact that New Orleans + FEMA = Disaster.

  7. So…FEMA won’t pay less money than it was willing to dole out in the first place? The stupidity is nearly sublime.

  8. News flash- government functionaries focus on processes and ignore actual outcomes.

    Unfortunately, some government apologist will be along shortly to explain why FEMA couldn’t just say, “Go out and find a way to re-stock the facility, and forward the bill to us. We’ll pay it.”

  9. The fact is, FEMA has agreed to re-imburse the acquarium for their work. The Stafford Act outlines reimbursable payments. If work does not fall under those rules — such as the aquarium — an appeal must be filed. The appeal was filed and granted. Check the Times Picayune online —

  10. I’m shocked, shocked at the implication that there is corruption in New Orleans or in FEMA!

  11. “linchpin of the city’s tourism”

    Are they sure about that? I’ve known a lot of tourists who have visited New Orleans, and nobody has ever mentioned visiting the aquarium, wanting to visit the aquarium, or knowing about the aquarium.

  12. Did the staff members get at least 3 different quotes from..umm..the staff members, for what it would cost for umm… the staff members to catch the fish, and then pick the lowest offer from the umm.. staff members?

  13. Are they sure about that? I’ve known a lot of tourists who have visited New Orleans, and nobody has ever mentioned visiting the aquarium, wanting to visit the aquarium, or knowing about the aquarium.

    Yeah, I thought the lynchpin(s) were jazz, beads & tits, and food.

  14. Heh, I have a friend who donated his pacu to the NO aquarium.

    If work does not fall under those rules — such as the aquarium — an appeal must be filed.

    Yeah, I doubt that it won’t all get worked out, but these byzantine rules and bureaucratic cockups are symptomatic of larger problems.

  15. Grasshopper Episarch, for you to get to the beads and tits, one must first get to the booze. Be patient my son, they will come once the bars reach a level of transcendent capacity and the tits and beads fall into the street like so much water.

  16. Gotta agree with Mike. The aquarium there is decent, but I’d say the linchpin of the city’s tourism is Bourbon Street debauchery.

  17. @Laursen

    Agreed. I’ve been to New Orleans a half dozen times and I just learned from this article that they have an aquarium. But most cities have an aquariums. There are aquariums in Las Vegas! The Mall of America has an frick’n aquarium! Is there something special about New Orleans aquarium? Does it have a topless mermaid bar?

  18. The NO aquarium is cool looking from the outside. It’s at the end of Canal Street, next to that mall on the Mississippi River and close to the Harrah’s casino. Most people probably stumble upon it accidentally. Unfortunately, no topless mermaids, but in NO, titties are always a bead’s throw away.

  19. So Nick, you loved The Incredible Mr. Limpet as much I did when I was a kid?

  20. Geek that i am, I have visited the NO aquarium twice–it’s quite a good one, or was, before the troubles. Highly recommend y’all check it out.

  21. If Ron Paul is elected president, and if he uses my Top 100 to do items for a libertarian president, this gets solved (as far as FEMA is concerned) with #47:

    47. Make it clear to the head of FEMA that his sole purpose in life is to protect America from space alien invasion.

    And fund the agency accordingly. Maybe a guy with a flashlight and a shotgun would be enough? Oh, and we’d need to give him a gas allowance and a cool conversion van with SHADO painted on the side. And shag carpet on the walls. Hey, this is a major federal agency!

  22. The NO Aquarium is one of the nicer ones in the country, or was anyway. Great exhibits on the Mississippi River ecosystem, South American Rain Forest and a shark tank Blofeld would be proud of. They also have some bad-ass looking white alligators (not albinos, they have blue eyes). It’s more of a regional tourist attraction for families. (Yes families do go to NO.) It was a must see every time we went as kids. It’s also a nice, air-conditioned place to walk off your hangover before the drive home.

  23. Tampa’s aquarium is okay, though it should be better, given its location. A surprisingly good one is the Chattanooga Aquarium. I liked the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, too, though I haven’t been there in many years.

    We have mermaids in Weeki Wachee. They’re not topless, but they are having financial problems. Knowing the Bay Area’s prominent place in the adult industry, I expect what happens in Weeki Wachee will stay in Weeki Wachee sometime in the near future.

  24. “””Oh, and we’d need to give him a gas allowance and a cool conversion van with SHADO painted on the side”””

    All girls in the van must have purple hair!!

  25. Well, I’m not providing any extra funding for staff, but if he can get girls to tag along with him, I suppose we can spring for some purple wigs. And maybe some silver suits if he comes in under budget on his per diem. Maybe.

  26. Oh, and we’d need to give him a gas allowance and a cool conversion van with SHADO painted on the side.

    Ooooo! Can I be Straker? He had the coolest shit.

  27. Wasn’t his cover something like a movie producer or studio executive? I mean, that’s metacool when your cover job is cool, too.

  28. So much for Ron Paul’s claim that earmarks don’t increase the amount of federal spending …

    I suppose it isn’t politically viable for him to just admit that he has to be a bit corrupt to get reelected.

  29. Hart is on the money again. I really like his shit. He makes fun and a point at the same time. Who else writes like him these days?
    He is like PJ O’ROurke in his prime!

  30. Dem New Awlins fishes fry up nice!

    Great column!!

  31. This is a great column. I read his work in my local paper in Memphis, but you can get his libertarian humor at—or Google Ron Hart

    He is the best!

  32. Dudes, calm down. There is a reason why “linchpin of the city’s tourism” was in quotation marks. Quotes=sarcasm.

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