Tuesday, September 13, 2005

The next legacy for Katrina will be fraud

After the disaster, where does the media go next?

Blame of course.

We’ve certainly seen much of that. Next after blame is coverage of the relief delivery – and reconstruction.

After that, come the media stories about fraud. Wasn’t it a few weeks ago, that we heard stories of FEMA paying for funerals of people where weren’t victims of last year’s Hurricanes?

And of course in the past week or so, there have been stories of abuse of loan guarantees from funds for the 9-11 recovery.

When it comes to Katrina, even fraud will likely be super sized. Hurricane Frances hit Florida just one year ago and fraud stories abound.

But the seeds of fraud are actually sown at the beginning of any disaster relief.

We know the president has promised to cut through the red tape in an attempt to make sure that those who have been affected by Katrina can get access to benefits immediately. Well, one of the roles of the “red tape” he mentions is to assure that those who receive benefits deserve benefits.

The easier you make it to get benefits, the more likely that there will be fraud. That is the inherent balance to be struck on providing rapid response. The cost of making sure that the truly needy get benefits is the result that those who aren’t truly needy will get some of those as well.

At least this time, some one is watching out on the fraud issue at the get-go.
The inspector general’s office at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) received $15 million in the $51.8 billion disaster supplemental (PL 109-62) lawmakers passed Sept. 8 for audits and investigations into procurement related to Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath.
“Good God, we could end up dumping billions in people’s laps that aren’t entitled to it,” said Rep. Mark Foley, R-Fla., in a phone interview Monday.
Foley has dealt with FEMA on an almost daily basis since four hurricanes ravaged his state in 2004, and he said he is worried about whether FEMA will effectively apply the lessons from last year’s hurricane season.
“You have fraud and abuse running rampant, and you’ve got to have better checks and balances,” he said.

Is it possible that there’s a little foresight this time around?

If not, next year will have a whole other set of headlines, just as Congress stands for re-election.
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