The never-ending, fully-funded FEMA projects in Louisiana

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Of the 18,696 projects the Federal Emergency Management Agency has committed to fully funding in Louisiana in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, only 1,178 have been closed out, says the Homeland Security Department inspector general. That amounts to 6.3 percent of all projects.

In a report (.pdf) issued Jan. 31, the OIG notes that assistance granted under FEMA's Public Assistance grant program from the agency's Disaster Relief Fund are supposed to be completed no later than 4 years after the date of a presidentially-declared major disaster. Public Assistance grants go to local governments and certain nonprofits for the repair or replacement of damaged facilities, as well as for funding immediate needs such as debris clearance and emergency work.

Typically the grants require recipients to put up a quarter of the projected cost of a project, but for Hurricane Katrina-related grants, the federal government said it would pay for all costs.

That decision is "one of the key contributors to the slow progress in closing out projects," the report says, noting that the federal government has obligated $10.2 billion in Public Assistance grants for Katrina recovery in Louisiana as of July 12, 2011.

Because the state of Louisiana pays zero, it lacks incentive to seek out cost-effective solutions, close completed projects, or let go disaster repair workers as work is completed, the report says. Also, the 100 percent financing has led applicants to continue "to identify new damages 5-and-a-half years after the event," it adds.

Some officials interviewed by auditors also lay blame with FEMA's procurement process, calling it "complicated and rigid." They note that some project starts were delayed until FEMA could satisfy requirements for sufficiently competitive bidding.

Officials also said that some projects could be closed out, but the state of Louisiana have assigned personnel to other work considered more important.

For more:
- download the report, OIG-12-30 (.pdf)

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