More responsible FEMA needed for hurricane help

Washington can track the storms – it just can’t seem to help anyone caught in the aftermath.

Max Mayfield, former director of the National Hurricane Center, is retiring. Bill Proenza, a “veteran forecaster and former ‘hurricane hunter,'” according to the Tampa Tribune, is scheduled to take his place.

Proenza has a degree in meteorology from Florida State University, has worked for the National Weather Service since the 1960s and implemented a program to release warnings about severe weather to protect the large Hispanic populations in certain areas of the South. There is no question that he is qualified for the position.

Unfortunately, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) does not have the same level of competence. The Associated Press reported that FEMA is still hemorrhaging money a full year after Hurricane Katrina, according to an audit conducted by the Government Accountability Office. Fraudulent hurricane assistance claims have cost the agency more than $1 billion since August 2005, but less than 1 percent of that money has been recovered.

The agency is still spending money in what appears to be a totally haphazard way, “including $17 million in bogus rental payments to people who had already received free trailers and apartments,” according to the Tribune article. The agency lost $20 million more to individuals who claimed the same property damage twice – once from Hurricane Katrina and again from Hurricane Rita – even though their homes had only been damaged once.

After seeing the report, U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, told the AP, “The American people are generous and willingly open their hearts and their wallets to the victims of disasters, but they expect that their tax dollars will be spent carefully to help storm victims, not be lost to a hurricane of waste, fraud and abuse.”

Collins is correct about America’s generosity, but that generosity has limitations. It has been more than a year since the devastating effects of Katrina. Michael Brown, the infamously incompetent former director of the agency, is long gone. New Orleans is limping painfully slowly toward any semblance of recovery, but that’s not happening very quickly, despite Brown’s exit.

If taxes are going to continue to take more than a quarter of every American dollar, Americans should receive reliable services in exchange. A multi-million dollar agency that hands out millions of taxpayer dollars to criminals doesn’t count as a service. Granted, the National Hurricane Center does, but it’s of little use to know when the storm will hit if you are too poor to move out of the way and the agency in charge of moving you doesn’t.