FEMA wasted millions: report

FEMA didn’t do a heckuva job on its contracts under President Bush.
The “disaster” agency spent twice as much as it needed to for a building in Tennessee that smelled like sewage and had insects, roaches and bullet casings strewn over its floors, according to Department of Homeland Security Inspector General’s report conducted by Foxx and Company.
The building was in such bad shape and so full of potentially harmful chemicals that one FEMA employee who ended up working there developed a rash that lasted for 3 months. A cleaning company told FEMA they’d need $1.2 million just to clean it up.
These problems and others — including wasting $3 million on Pedialyte that expired and buying mobile surgery units that were never used — were discovered in a damning investigation into an agency that has had its share of public relations problems since Hurricane Katrina. The report, dated Feb. 3, investigated contracts made under the Bush administration. It had not previously been made public.
The biggest problem revolves around the FEMA facility in Brentwood, Tenn., that FEMA leased after a series of disasters. When federal officials went to Tennessee, they didn’t call a commercial real estate agent or look at available space online. Instead, two of them drove around Nashville in a car looking for a new office. When the government sent inspectors to look at the building they found, the inspection was conducted during the night with flashlights because there was no electricity. The water was off, and so was the heat and air conditioning.
Obama administration officials emphasized they’re working to make a clean break with the agency’s old problems. “Under the new administration, FEMA has taken aggressive steps to ensure that past mistakes are not repeated and current leadership has made it clear that lapses in oversight will not be tolerated,” said FEMA spokesman Brad Carroll
In the report, FEMA officials reject these findings, blaming it on the General Services Administration, which is the government’s real estate broker.
“FEMA does not have the authority to enter into or negotiate lease agreements in support of a presidential declaration,” the report says. “FEMA stated that GSA is the principal agency responsible for leasing authority.”
FEMA paid $122,000 to rent the building for less than three months, the boiler caused so many problems that “someone had to watch it 24/7 so it would not explode or crack,” the Inspector General report says. The drinking water wasn’t potable, so the disaster agency had to truck in bottled water. A senior official who wanted to visit the office was told not to come because so many employees were sick. Sewage leaks sent workers home in the middle of the day. Adjacent rooms were filled with debris and some sections of it were roped off because of possible chemical contamination.
The lease required the government to pay all maintenance and utility costs—a type of lease the agency had never signed before, a FEMA official told investigators. The government spent $607,000 on operating, maintenance and repair expenses for a total cost of $729,000—nearly twice the cost of the $344,000 for a nearby building that offered a full-service lease.

The Foxx report also covered other FEMA contracts and found a wide range of waste:

  • After Hurricane Katrina, state officials asked the federal government to buy $3 million worth of Pedialyte, a drink that helps children from becoming dehydrated, even though FEMA doesn’t normally buy these types of consumer items. The Pedialyte was never used — and after it expired, the federal government threw it away.
  • After Hurricane Ike hit Galveston, Texas in September 2008, FEMA paid more than $1 million for mobile surgery units that were never used, the report said. FEMA terminated the contract — a move that cost taxpayers $470,000.
  • After Ike, FEMA set up two base camps that cost a combined $8.7 million for 30 days. The camps were designed to house up to 1,000 emergency responders and serve them 3,000 meals per day. During the first month, FEMA housed just over half that many people and served a third of the meals that they paid for. That didn’t keep the agency from resigning the contract for an additional month–and billing another $8.7 million to taxpayers.
  • Another Ike-related contract spent $637,000 for mobile sleeper units to accommodate emergency responders and volunteers. The sleepers were never set up, let alone used.

By: KASIE HUNT: a Washington, DC-based journalist currently reporting from Capitol Hill for National Journal’s CongressDaily and Politico www.kasiehunt.com

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