Bread before booty

Erin Roof

In the hysteria of looting, racism and violence following Hurricane Katrina, residents of the Gulf Coast were simply trying to survive. The U.S. government’s response: dog booties, iPods and designer rain jackets.

For the five people who didn’t already know, the government response to Hurricane Katrina proved that our leaders don’t care about poor people in this country – they care about wasting money.

Bad organization, lack of oversight and downright greed led to millions of dollars being spent on mistakes and fruitless expenditures. Two reports issued earlier this year by the Government Accountability Office and the inspector general for the Department of Homeland Security illustrated the extent of the waste.

According to the reports, the Federal Emergency Management Agency had a severe phobia of being fiscally responsible. For instance, the organization shelled out $416,000 per person to house a few hundred evacuees in Alabama for a short period after the hurricane.

Oh, and let’s not forget about the beer. The department bought a beer brewing kit so a Coast Guard official could brew booze while on duty. For some reason, getting wasted on homemade hooch doesn’t seem integral to the rebuilding effort. I could be wrong.

A simple lack of research resulted in more ridiculous buys. For example, the agency spent $878.8 million on almost 25,000 manufactured homes that it is now paying to store because its own regulations outlaw setting them up in flood plains like New Orleans. It also paid nearly $70,000 on booties for rescue dogs, only to deem them unusable. The reports also noted the government purchased 37 Helly Hansen rain jackets to use in a firing range that closes down when it is raining.

Sen. Susan Collins, who ordered the investigations into the financial mismanagement, fumed about the findings.

“This ‘pay first, ask questions later’ approach has been an invitation to unscrupulous behavior,” she said after the release of the reports.

But, Susan, this shameful waste of taxpayers’ money is not entirely FEMA’s fault. There were plenty of people cashing in on an opportunity to defraud the government, after all.

The investigations revealed up to 900,000 people granted aid through FEMA’s emergency cash assistance scheme provided false names and addresses. Of course agency workers could have also more accurately checked for accuracy, but never mind that.

Many companies handed out government contracts and were not so honest in the prices they charged. One such contractor charged more than $70,000 for three, hopefully swanky, portable shower units that Customs and Border Patrol agents could have bought for one third of the price. FEMA also granted Dick Cheney’s former company, Halliburton, lucrative rebuilding contracts. But it is not FEMA’s fault the company faces allegations of price-gouging for contracted work done in Iraq.

In the end, the extent of this monetary meltdown is amazing, considering only $44 billion of the $110 billion allocated rebuilding funds has been spent. Just think of how many more dog booties they can buy. Let’s just hope when the next major hurricane strikes, the dogs can actually wear them.

Erin Roof is a senior magazine journalism major and a columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Modern art makes her “want to rock out.” Contact her at [email protected].