More on FEMA Fraud, Waste and Abuse

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Here’s the latest from CNN on Federal Emergency Misappropriations (FEMA):

Lawmakers expressed outrage Wednesday over a federal audit report that debit cards handed out to hurricane victims last year were used to buy such items as a $200 bottle of champagne from Hooters and $300 worth of “Girls Gone Wild” videos.

To begin, Hooter’s has already offered to repay the $200 for the bottle of Dom Perignon in question. Considering that Doug Stanhope endorsed Michael Badnarik for the 2004 presidential election, I imagine he (unless a Badnarik supporter beats him to the punch) will be following suit.

The cards — given to people displaced by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita — also bought diamond jewelry and a vacation in the Dominican Republic, according to the Government Accountability Office audit.

The GAO, the investigative arm of Congress, found at least $1 billion in disaster relief payments by the Federal Emergency Management Agency were improper and potentially fraudulent because the recipients provided incomplete or incorrect information when they registered for assistance. (GAO report)

The GAO uncovered records showing $1,000 from a FEMA debit card went to a Houston divorce lawyer, $600 was spent in a strip club, and $400 bought “adult erotica products,” all of which auditors concluded were “not necessary to satisfy legitimate disaster needs.”

The fault in this case is more than obvious. If you pass out a stack of debit cards to a large group of people, only a moron would expect all of them to spend all the money on items like Pampers, bottled water and staple food supplies.

“This is an affront to the American taxpayer, who has been fleeced by the actions of these criminals and the lack of FEMA fraud prevention,” said Rep. Michael McCaul, chairman of a House subcommittee investigating how the agency distributed aid.

“If FEMA doesn’t fix it, Congress will,” said McCaul, a Republican from Texas whose investigative panel of the House Homeland Security Committee heard testimony on the report Wednesday. FEMA is part of the Department of Homeland Security.

In FEMA’s defense, top official Donna Daniels testified the agency was simply overwhelmed by the scale of the disasters, forcing it to choose between providing help quickly or delaying aid until information could be verified.

Keeping in mind that McCaul only earned a 60% rating from the National Taxpayer’s Union, he’s probably not the one to be defending the American taxpayer. To be fair to McCaul, he did receive a 76% on the Bush-endorsing FreedomWorks rating (they don’t even list the Libertarian opposition on their site), and is mysteriously missing (at the time of this posting) from the Citizen’s for Government Waste listing. Badnarik comes to play again, as he’s clearly a true economic conservative running against McCaul.

“We just made the calculated decision that we were going to help as many people as we could, and that we would have to go back and identify those people who we either paid in error or that defrauded us, and deal with that,” said Daniels, FEMA’s acting director of recovery operations.

Rep. Bob Etheridge of North Carolina, the House panel’s ranking Democrat, said he appreciated FEMA and other relief agencies were under “tremendous pressure to register storm victims as quickly as possible.”

“However, that is no excuse for the lack of preparation, the lack of internal controls and the lack of decisive and professional leadership,” Etheridge said.

McCaul said FEMA should not have to choose between providing assistance quickly and assuring the money is going only to people who qualify.

“I think we can have both, and I think that’s what the American people deserve,” he said.

Both sides seem to be missing the obvious question: Since when is it the responsibility of the Federal government to pass out debit cards to the victims of any natural (or government caused) disaster?

posted by Stephen Gordon
  • Michael Hampton

    You forgot about the divorce lawyer and the New Orleans Saints season tickets. (The last I find particularly amusing, as at the time their venue had been pretty much destroyed.)

    As for FEMA, it should be disbanded and the responsibility for disaster response returned to whom it belongs: those who would be affected.

  • http://www.chrisbennettfromillinois.blogspot.com Chris Bennett

    Hold off on your criticisms about FEMA. When Clinton was in office it was one of the most efficient and well run agencies in the government. Bush has used FEMA as a patronage drop-off for inexperienced low-life’s like Brown and Company. I do agree that the whole debit card fiasco was a waste of money. Funds could have been concentrated elsewhere but there are WORSE government agencies than FEMA.

  • Graham

    It’s hard to expect people to spend wisely considering the great role models of fiscal restraint in power. When you show people that there is no reason to spend wisely or even “balance the checkbook” and that if you spend all the money you have you can easily get more… When you handout money, well…

    it’s also another thing entirely to make judgments about what is considered a good use of money. Give the money “freely” and people will buy what they value or “want” not what you think they need. And everyone spends money on different things. Obviously not everyone needs Pampers (or Depends) and maybe sex and booze is just what some people really need for disaster “relief.”

  • http://allencountylp.blogspot.com/ Mike Sylvester

    FEMA has been poorly run for decades.

    It is an example of what is wrong with BIG government.

    Kick the Dems and Reps out.

    Vote Libertarian.

    Mike Sylvester

  • Michael Hampton

    Chris, my sources within the Department of Homeland Security tell me from their experience that FEMA was this poorly run even in the Clinton era.

  • Mike G

    It’s nice to know that my hard earned tax dollars have given others vacations, booze, sex, and otherwise a good time **sarcasm**. I wish I could use what I spend in taxes and social security and give MYSELF a good time as well as a good retirement.

  • http://warcriminal.freeservers.com Sol

    Our nanny state parents are pretty angry their children spent the money this way. I imagine the children will be sent to their rooms with no dessert and will be grounded for at the very least a couple of weeks. I think Chris would agree that our parents in FEMA love us and we couldn’t get by without them.

  • Lenny Zimmermann

    Frankly I’m quite sure the folks who got that money view at just getting back their hard-earned tax dollars as well and feel like they’ll spend it on whatever they damned well feel like spending it on. (I know, because I know more than a few of these very people, being from the Katrina-affected area myself.)

    I really do think it’s stupid to try to blame the recipents of the money for anything. Frankly tey probably know what they need the money for more then the damned government anyway. Add in the utter stupidity of the cost being wasted on contractors at the Federal level (such as the amount being paid for FEMA to put blue tarps on people’s roofs). Any homeowner I know could far more wisely spend just half of what the eventual governmental cost was for any one of their homes.

    Why are we taking issue with how folks are spending it when, as SG points out, we should be taking issue with letting the government take as much of our taxes as they do and giving it out willy nilly anyway?

  • Scott

    $400 bought “adult erotica products,” all of which auditors concluded were “not necessary to satisfy legitimate disaster needs.”

    Oh come on, have some sympathy….

  • http://tracytakespics.blogspot.com Tracy

    Let us not forget that debit cards were one of several means of dispersing the funds to hurricane victims. Just think of what people that received direct deposits or checks did with all that dough. I’ve seen some of the “fun stuff” purchased myself as I used to live there until about 6 months ago.