By Bob Smither
March 11, 2006
FEMA, through a combination of incompetence and design, blocked the efforts of thousands of individual Americans and hundreds of private organizations that wanted to provide real help to the victims of Katrina. The widely reported waste of taxpayer dollars by FEMA pales in comparison to the cost to the nation of the agency's attack on volunteer efforts.
In a report issued February 13, 2006, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) documents the almost unbelievable incompetence of FEMA in its response to the victims of Katrina.
Highlights from the complete report show widespread fraud. Duplicate $2,000 payments were made to 5,000 of the 11,000 debit card recipients, a stunning 45% fraud rate.
GAO officials, using falsified identities, bogus addresses, and fabricated disaster stories were sent $2,000 checks from FEMA.
What is not reported by the GAO report, however, is the most costly and destructive aspect of the agency's response - the waste of human good will and concern for our fellow citizens.
FEMA spearheaded what amounted
to a full frontal attack on American
The web site of the American Red Cross has this notice posted:
Read the statement above carefully and thoughtfully. Is this the country you grew up in? American citizens not allowed to help American citizens? Is this the country we want?
Over 1,000 volunteers that wanted to help New Orleans residents during the worst of the flooding quickly assembled with 500 of their own boats at Acadiana Mall in Lafayette. They hoped to rescue hospital patients and flooding victims and take them to safety. The group consisted of private boaters who had spent their entire lives navigating the waterways of Louisiana. This entire flotilla of good will and mercy was turned away by FEMA, and were told they could not help the people in New Orleans who so desperately needed them.
I am a member of an agency that wanted to deliver supplies and a vehicle to use in distributing them to the citizens of Gulfport, Mississippi. We were blocked in our efforts by MEMA, the Mississippi version of FEMA, and were told that only those with government permission would be allowed to help those in Gulfport. Finally, through Catholic Charities, we were able to deliver our resources to a priest in Hattiesburg, Mississippi and he put them to good use taking much needed supplies to several smaller towns over the next few weeks. The fact remains that where the need was greatest we were not allowed to assist by the actions of our government.
FEMA prevented the Coast Guard from delivering fuel, the Red Cross from delivering food and shelter, they barred morticians from entering New Orleans while dead bodies piled up, and ignored a Navy ship equipped with a 600-bed hospital - all while thousands died.
FEMA's response follows naturally from its true mission - spend its budget, get good press while doing so, and reflect well on the public sector.
Private relief agencies have a different agenda. Their spending is limited by voluntary contributions and they have an incentive to spend their donor s money in ways that actually benefit the most people.
FEMA's generosity with other people's money has a corrosive effect on the community in the way that it discourages families and other private networks from forming and reaching out to help each other in times of need. The result is a less civilized society and a greater dependence by many on a taxpayer funded handout.
About: Bob Smither writes,
"I am a co-founder of the Laura Recovery Center (www.lrcf.org).
As a Board member of the Center, I was with a group that wanted
to help victims of Katrina in Gulf Port, Mississippi, one of
the worst hit areas along the Gulf Coast. As mentioned in my
Comment, we were prohibited by FEMA from taking supplies and
a motor home to the devastated area. From this experience, I
learned of other actions by FEMA that prevented private citizens
and agencies from helping the victims of Katrina, including,
almost unbelievably, their preventing the Red Cross from assisting
in New Orleans. I think that this aspect of FEMA's debacle has
been under reported, and I feel strongly that the approach FEMA
took to help those hurt by the storm needs to be reviewed and
and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Sitnews.