Reforms should streamline, not add bureaucracy

Freedom Newspapers

After a series of audits and hearings after the 2004 hurricane season, the Federal Emergency Management Agency promised it would have its management and accounting systems in better order for 2005. So it is difficult to put much faith in similar promises this year, given the disaster in New Orleans.

Perhaps the best we can hope for is that because Katrina and its aftermath were such an embarrassment the feds will push hard to avoid any semblance of a repeat lack of performance.

Certainly there is reason for embarrassment at FEMA.

Two reports, from the Government Accountability Office and the Homeland Security Department’s inspector, show an alarming degree of mismanagement, fraud and accounting problems with the $85 billion in federal aid for Katrina recovery.

Up to 900,000 of the 2.5 million applications for aid under FEMA’s emergency cash assistance program were based on duplicate or invalid Social Security numbers or false addresses or names.

FEMA wasted additional thousands of dollars by paying top dollar for hotel rooms for evacuees rather than negotiating lower prices. The waste, according to GAO investigator Gregory Kutz, was “certainly millions of dollars; it could be tens or hundreds of millions of dollars.”

Some of the proposed reforms — putting claims personnel in the field rather than requiring people made homeless to use the Internet or telephone, streamlining and integrating bureaucracies — sound sensible. Others — bigger regional FEMA offices, more military involvement, more permanent staff — might create a more cumbersome bureaucracy.

The danger nobody acknowledges is of creating an even greater sense of reliance on government, short-circuiting the efforts of the private sector.