Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Another Lost $Billion in Reconstruction Funds....

But this time it's not in Iraq.

The Bush Administration doesn't do many things well, but when it comes to graft, fund-raising, and outright incompetence, they stand head and shoulders above most prior U.S. governments.


  1. First, let's keep in mind that the people engaging in fraud were neither government employees, contractors, nor fund-raisers. So I'm not real sure how this example supports your contention about graft and fund-raising. (Mind you, I'm not disputing the existence of other examples . . )

    Second, this isn't a surprise; anybody who thought about it at the time knew that this was going to happen. (It was even discussed to some extent and the decision made that the increased risk of fraud would be worth the increase in speed.) Congress (and the rest of us) were screaming that the Government had to move faster and give out more money to people in need. This is what happens when you go fast. It's a trade-off.

    If you had centralized control (build refugee camps, declared martial law, etc.) you would have had a lot less fraud and waste. You would have also have given people a lot less freedom and probably made them a lot less happy (would you rather get partially reimbursed for staying in an apartment or stay for "free" in a tent in a refugee camp). If we had insisted on more internal controls and required a higher standard of proof to qualify for aid we would have both prevented people who were deserving, but lost everything including their vital documents, from receiving aid; we would also have slowed down the flow of aid.

    Don't misunderstand, more planning and preparation for disaster relief would have made everything, including this particular, problem a lot better. But I can't remember the last disaster of this magnitude in the U.S. So I'm not really sure what basis we have for arguing that we would have done a better job if it has happened during another administration. Aggravating that is the fact that this disaster hit an area that was, shall we say, not known for infrastructure and good government in the first place.

    Finally, never underestimate the incompetence of any government. Just because they didn't get a chance to demonstrate it doesn't mean it wasn't there all along . . .


  2. I wasn't holding this up as an example of graft or fundraising - this was presented "only" as an example of the Bush Administration's incompetence. Sorry I wasn't more clear.

    Please note that of the $billion lost, only about 7.6% is attributable to the credit card debacle. Yes, it was obvious at the outset that the $2,000 credit cards invited fraud; arguably that 7.6% was money "well lost" in order to provide rapid aid to people in need.

    Last I checked, FEMA did have what amount to "refugee camps" (note: a FEMA officila responds to the original story within the comments) in the form of emergency shelters and trailer parks under its control. The biggest problems do not seem to be related to the people who sought such emergency housing or shelter from FEMA (but it does provide another example of incompetence).

    I'm not sure what the magnitude of the disaster has to do with the magnitude of the incompetence. Had another administration bungled disaster relief as badly, they would be equally deserving of criticism. It most certainly is fair to comment that "in a post-9/11 world", three years into the new world of "homeland security", the Bush Administration demonstrated that it is completely inept at responding to even a long-anticipated large-scale disaster. What does that say about its ability to respond to, say, a massive terrorist attack it has not anticipated?

  3. FEMA made trailer camps available, but it offered other alternatives in terms of either paying outright or subsidizing the costs of displaced persons. My point was that if we had gone with a policy that said that we would not "pay or reimburse costs" for displaced people but would only make "refugee camps" available, it would have greatly reduced the amount of fraud committed, but at a cost in terms of the quality/flexibility of services provided. I was using it as an example of where the policy decision was made to tolerate increased risks of fraud.

    The magnitude of the disaster plays a huge role in the response and the competency required to deal with same. The scale of the disaster was so large that FEMA had both no experience in dealing with that many people and no real good “local” model to follow. That is part of what leads to the “jerky” response. We have one office of government ordering tens of thousands of manufactured homes to house people, but absolutely no thought is given to local zoning ordinances which will prevent the housing from being assembled. Although I agree this administration's response was bad, my point is that since no other administration had to face the same issues, I’m not sure any earlier administration would have done better.

    As an aside, the family detailed in your first link seemed to be a lot more interested in muck raking than they did helping. (Before they even made it to the camp to see what was happening they were already trying to create evidence and lying to the police.)


  4. I provided the first link because, as the parenthetical indicates, it includes a response from FEMA. I have found less inflammatory descriptions of the story, but had to balance that against offering FEMA's clear statement of its own position. In any event, the story was offered not as a testament to how good or bad things may be in a particular FEMA camp, but as a reflection of the fact that there are what amount to FEMA "refugee camps".


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