As next week’s anniversary of Hurricane Katrina triggers recollections of rooftop refugees and massive devastation along the Gulf Coast, the White House has begun a public relations blitz to counteract Democrats’ plans to use the government’s tardy response and the region’s slow recovery in the coming congressional elections.
President Bush will visit the area Monday and Tuesday, including an overnight stay in New Orleans. He probably will visit the city’s Lower 9th Ward, the heavily black area that remains mired in debris, and is expected to meet with storm victims. …
What do you want to bet those “storm victims” will be very carefully vetted? If not bused in from somewhere else?
… The White House announced Bush’s visit Tuesday as a phalanx of administration officials stood before reporters to argue that billions of dollars had flowed to the region and millions more was on the way. …
…At Tuesday’s briefing, White House aides passed out folders and fact sheets that painted a picture of aggressive recovery efforts. A packet from the Army Corps of Engineers, responsible for the levees that were breached after the storm, carried the slogan: “One Team: Relevant, Ready, Responsible, Reliable.”
Donald E. Powell, the White House official in charge of recovery plans, declared that Bush was “fulfilling his commitment to rebuild the Gulf Coast better and stronger.”
I like this part:
The plans for the trip were disclosed one day after Atty. Gen. Alberto R. Gonzales announced that he was sending additional lawyers and resources to the city to fight fraud and abuse.
He’s sending lawyers and resources to the city to fight fraud and abuse?
Today the House Committee on Government Reform Minority Office (that means Democrats) released a report titled “Waste, Fraud, and Abuse in Hurricane Katrina Contracts.” I haven’t had a chance to study it, but here are key findings from a press release:
* Full and Open Competition is the Exception, Not the Rule. As of June 30, 2006, over $10.6 billion has been awarded to private contractors for Gulf Coast recovery and reconstruction. Nearly all of this amount ($10.1 billion) was awarded in 1,237 contracts valued at $500,000 or more. Only 30% of these contracts were awarded with full and open competition.
* Contract Mismanagement Is Widespread. Hurricane Katrina contracts have been accompanied by pervasive mismanagement. Mistakes were made in virtually every step of the contracting process: from pre-contract planning through contract award and oversight. Compounding this problem, there were not enough trained contract officials to oversee contract spending in the Gulf Coast.
* The Costs to the Taxpayer Are Enormous. This report identifies 19 Katrina contracts collectively worth $8.75 billion that have been plagued by waste, fraud, abuse, or mismanagement. In the case of each of these 19 contracts, reports from the Government Accountability Office, Pentagon auditors, agency inspectors general, or other government investigators have linked the contracts to major problems in administration or performance.
I repeat — Gonzales is sending lawyers and resources to the city to fight fraud and abuse?
According to an Associated Press story by Matt Crenson, “Bush fulfills few promises to Gulf Coast“:
A June report by the Government Accountability Office concluded that FEMA wasted between $600 million and $1.4 billion on “improper and potentially fraudulent individual assistance payments.” …
… More than 100 million cubic yards of debris have been cleared from the region affected by Katrina. So far the government has spent $3.6 billion, a figure that might have been considerably smaller had the contracts for debris removal been subject to competitive bidding.
Can someone who can do arithmetic figure out how much the govenment has spent per cubic yard, assuming $3.6 billion for 100 million cubic yards? My calculator doesn’t go that high.
Working through the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, FEMA gave each of four companies contracts worth up to $500 million to clear hurricane debris. This spring government inspectors reported that the companies â€” AshBritt Inc. of Pompano Beach, Fla., Phillips and Jordan Inc. of Knoxville Ceres Environmental Services Inc. of Brooklyn Park, Minn., and ECC Operating Services Inc. of Burlingame, Calif. â€” charged the government as much as four to six times what they paid their subcontractors who actually did the work.
Here’s an oldie but goodie — Justin Park reports for The New Standard:
Taxpayers around the nation who urged the federal government to pay for relief and reconstruction after Hurricane Katrina probably didnâ€™t expect their money to be spent on $279 meals and $2,500 tarps. But according to a newly released report, corporations hired by the federal government have not only inflated costs but committed labor abuses and delayed the reconstruction process, making millions while local companies and workers have been left behind.
The report, released last week by the Oakland-based non-profit CorpWatch, which investigates the private sector, details corporate price gouging, contracting pyramid schemes, labor abuses and unnecessary delays in the wake of last yearâ€™s hurricane season. The “disaster profiteers,” as CorpWatch calls them, include Halliburton, Blackwater, Fluor, CH2M Hill and Bechtel â€“ all of which have also received federal contracts for work in Iraq.
“What we found is that rampant disaster profiteering abuses are needlessly slowing down the reconstruction of New Orleans and the rest of the stricken Gulf Coast region after Katrina,” CorpWatch director Pratap Chatterjee told reporters. Chatterjee, who is author of the book Iraq Inc. about contractor abuses in halfway around the world, compared the situation along the Gulf Coast to that of the Middle East.
According to the report, the clearest instances of waste in Gulf Coast reconstruction are the contracting pyramids schemes â€“ layers of subcontracting that turn an easy profit for the many middlemen. This layering creates distance between corporations such as Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg, Brown & Root (KBR) and the subcontractor that ultimately performs the work. It allows KBR, for example, to plead ignorance when labor abuses are uncovered, as happened when a subcontractor was caught employing undocumented immigrants late last year and accused of mistreating them.
And the punch line —
The report also alleges that many workers, both undocumented and otherwise, remain unpaid. As also reported by The NewStandard, immigrant workers â€“ many of them undocumented â€“ were drawn to the disaster zone by promises of high wages and plentiful work. When they arrive, many face hazardous work conditions and often are stiffed out of pay.
But we can’t have Louisiana letting any fraud and abuse slip by, can we?
In his Monday press conference Bush said he wants “local folks” to make decisions about how to proceed with recovery. But along with the fact that most of the big contracts are being made between the feds and their pet contractors, it seems the Bush Administration is overriding state decisions. Back to Crenson:
Despite Bush’s Jackson Square promise to “undertake a close partnership with the states of Louisiana and Mississippi, the city of New Orleans and other Gulf Coast cities,” state and local officials had a hard time reaching a deal for federal aid to help residents rebuild their ruined homes.
In January the administration rejected a $30 billion plan for Louisiana as too expensive. The White House also balked at subsidizing the reconstruction of homes in flood plains, a policy that would have excluded all but a small fraction of Louisiana homeowners whose houses were significantly damaged.
The state finally won funding in July for the $9 billion ‘Road Home’ program, which pays homeowners up to $150,000 either to repair their damaged property or rebuild elsewhere in the state. People who leave the state are eligible for a 60 percent buyout. The money, which is being distributed through escrow accounts to prevent fraud, is just becoming available a year after the hurricane.
$9 billion is just about what we’re pissing off about every six weeks in Iraq, is it not? But putting that aside — does the Bush Administration’s treatment of Louisiana just reek of imperialist condescension, or what? His Gloriousness says he wants to be a partner with the states and cities; he says he wants them to make decisions; but then he overrides their decisions and rejects their requests. And while Bush’s courtiers piss off money right and left, the Royal Fart Joke wants to be sure the colonials are being frugal.
I don’t doubt that some of the delays are happening at the state and local level, and the insurance companies’ foot dragging and shirking has added to the general misery. But what the Gulf Coast needed before, during, and after Katrina was competent and coordinated management and oversight of the regional recovery process. And that management and oversight should have come from the federal government.
Crenson of the Associated Press revisits the President’s famous floodlights in Jackson Square speech of last year to see how many of his promises have been kept. So far, one: Storm survivors are no longer living in shelters. Large numbers of them are still camping out in other “temporary” quarters, however, with no clue how long it will be before they have a permanent home. Some other promises have been partly filled, and the rest seem to have dropped off the to-do list without explanation.
You’d think (and I’ve said the same thing about Iraq, many times) that with so much of Bush’s political capital and credibility on the line, the Administration would have been at least paying attention to the Gulf Coast recovery to be sure something was happening. But so far it’s all been meandering along with no direction or oversight, and not much in the way of haste. My impression is that most of what has been accomplished so far was accomplished through private initiative and money, not through anything the Bush Administration did.
So now they’re putting on a spectacle and handing out folders and fact sheets. Do they think they’re going to fool anybody, when people can just drive around the Gulf Coast and notice how much isn’t being done?
All you really need to know about the White House’s post-Katrina strategy — and Bush’s carefully choreographed address on national television tonight — is this little tidbit from the ninth paragraph of Elisabeth Bumiller and Richard W. Stevenson’s story in the New York Times this morning:
“Republicans said Karl Rove, the White House deputy chief of staff and Mr. Bush’s chief political adviser, was in charge of the reconstruction effort.”
Rove’s leadership role suggests quite strikingly that any and all White House decisions and pronouncements regarding the recovery from the storm are being made with their political consequences as the primary consideration. More specifically: With an eye toward increasing the likelihood of Republican political victories in the future, pursuing long-cherished conservative goals, and bolstering Bush’s image.
That is Rove’s hallmark.
Rove’s hallmark is not, however, actually doing stuff. Tangible stuff, that is. Rove is an illusionist. He mounts pageants; he creates spectacles; he builds images. All of his works are as substantial as smoke. Sorta like Hurricane Katrina recovery.
Update: Dr. Ronald Walters writes,
Although what happened in the New Orleans gulf was arguably the worst internal disaster in American history, there has been nothing like the urgent attention the administration gave to New York City after the attack on the World Trade Center on 9/11.
Truth is, it was the city and state of New York doing the work. The feds just showed up to get their pictures took.
… one year later, 100 million pounds of debris still lay on the ground in and around New Orleans, tens of thousands of people cannot return to their homes, the infrastructure of public utilities in the city of New Orleans has not been restored, contractors are bringing in immigrant workers who further displace New Orleans’ poor, and the politics and bureaucratic inertiaâ€”complicated by the theft and broken promises of private financial agentsâ€”form impenetrable barriers that make it difficult for people to surmount to retrieve their lives.