Audit: Money From Abroad for Katrina Lost
By WILLIAM C. MANN
Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Federal auditors on Thursday laid out a scenario of omissions, missteps and bureaucratic nightmares that caused a loss of money and other donations sent from abroad to help victims of Hurricane Katrina.
Lawmakers at a congressional hearing on the subject reacted harshly to a Government Accountability Office report that attributed the errors, which involved as many as eight government agencies, to the United States' lack of experience as a recipient of huge amounts of aid from others.
Rep. Henry Waxman, the House Government Reform Committee's top Democrat, said, "This is bureaucracy at its worse, and the citizens of the Gulf Coast are suffering for it."
The GAO said in remarks prepared for delivery before the committee, "Given that the U.S. government had never before received such substantial amounts of international disaster assistance, ad hoc procedures were developed to manage the acceptance and distribution of the cash and in-kind assistance."
"It is understandable that not all procedures would be in place at the outset."
Rep. Tom Davis, the Republican chairman of the committee, said that it "appears that policies and procedures were lacking, simply because no one in the federal government anticipated needing or receiving this assistance."
The GAO said that $126 million in cash came in from 36 countries after the Aug. 29 hurricane devastated New Orleans, Louisiana and Mississippi along the U.S. Gulf Coast.
With plans lacking for dealing with such a large-scale influx, legal restrictions kicked in that required almost half the cash to be held in accounts that paid no interest, resulting in a loss of almost $1 million and diminished buying power for eventual hurricane relief.
Because $400 million more has been pledged but not yet received, the GAO is urging that instructions be put in place quickly to handle the money.
Davis said, "It does no good to be offered money, or water, or food, or potentially lifesaving medical supplies if we don't get those donations into the hands of the people who need them."
Money was not the only shortcoming of the response to one of the nation's most costly and deadly natural disasters, which killed almost 1,100 in Louisiana alone and hundreds more elsewhere. At least 1,900 people are listed as missing.
Typical of the misadventures was the failure to enlist government quality-control experts from the Agriculture Department and the Food and Drug Administration.
This resulted in importation of medical items and military food packages that should not have been allowed into the country; because they were, the government had to pay for storing them. The auditors were told of one shipment of military meals-ready-to-eat, however, that was delivered directly to a U.S. base whose personnel distributed the unknowingly banned MREs to hurricane victims.
The report, which will be published later, is the latest of a series of papers that have documented widespread mistakes and incompetence at all levels of government in the response to Katrina.
I think you set your expectations too high...