Three new investigations shed further light on how the Bush administration betrayed Gulf Coast residents during Hurricane Katrina, and how New Orleans and other affected areas are still suffering from federal waste and incompetence.
Some key highlights of the reports:
EPA allowed toxic chemicals to harm poor Katrina victims: A GAO report revealed that EPA publicly downplayed the risk of asbestos inhalation, which is often released during home demolition, to city residents and failed to deploy air monitors in predominantly African-American neighborhoods. Furthermore, EPA waited nearly eight months to inform residents that short-term visits could expose them to dangerous levels of asbestos and mold.
FEMA ignored its own hurricane plan: Prior to Katrina, FEMA created a “Southeast Louisiana Hurricane Backup Plan” which forecasted specific consequences and action-plans in the event of a hurricane. But “post-Katrina FEMA documents demonstrate that that the plan was never implemented.” The day before Katrina hit, FEMA Deputy Director Patrick Rhode sent an e-mail to Michael Brown’s assistant with the subject line, “copy of New Orleans cat plan,” stating, “I never got one — I think Brown got my copy — did you get one?”
FEMA guaranteed billions in profits for big companies: Following Katrina, federal agencies “doled out more than $2.4 billion in cost-plus contracts,” which “offer companies no incentive to save money or keep costs from ballooning.” FEMA was responsible for nearly 94 percent of all of the hurricane-related cost-plus contracts, with the remainder being issued primarily by the EPA and U.S. Air Force.
Fortunately, Congress has taken action to address some of these issues. In March, the House voted to limit the use of cost-plus contracts. That bill is currently stalled in the Senate, where it awaits action by Homeland Security Chairman Joe Lieberman (I-CT).