October 4, 2006
By Theresa Schmidt
Many of the lessons learned from hurricanes Rita and Katrina have to do with FEMA-- and problems meeting the emergency needs of the people. A list of reforms has been put into the homeland security bill by congressman Bobby Jindal who says they're crucial to improve FEMA's effectiveness.
People left in dire straits by Hurricane Rita have plenty to say about the effectiveness of FEMA as they struggled to survive. Many found themselves wading through a quagmire of bureaucracy as they tried to make progress toward recovery. Congressman Bobby Jindal says reforms should include improving efficiency and cost effectiveness. "For example, putting a limit on the number of layers of subcontractors so fema's not spending $175 to put a square of plastic on a roof where only $5 only gets to the people actually doing the work five layers down."
Reforms added to the Homeland Security Bill include better verification to guard against fraud and abuse. "Making sure that FEMA verifies the people in front of them getting this assistance really are the people impacted by the storm unlike last time when they gave checks to people in New Jersey, New York who used cemeteries as their address that weren't even residents of Louisiana," says Jindal.
And he wants restrictions on contractors that pile on extra costs... "Making sure we don't read about these $27, $28 a cubic yard contracts for debris removal when it costs $8 to $10. $75,000 for trailer homes that are only going to last eighteen months." As well Jindal says establishing a Gulf Coast Recovery office would help people still struggling. "People can go to one place, get their questions answered. They don't get the run around, they don't get referred to ten other agencies, they don't hear, 'Well, that's not my responsibility.' instead, they get the help they need in one place."
Jindal's reforms also include establishing a national asset and inventory program to better track and identify community needs in a national emergency. Jindal is considered a likely candidate for governor-- he says he'll decide early next year whether to run.
The Jindal provisions in the bill include:
* mandating FEMA to provide disaster relief assistance to eligible faith-based educational organizations. This is in response to congressman Jindal's disaster relief equity act (h.r. 3208) which was introduced last year before hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
* removing repair and replacement assistance limits ($5,000 and $10,000 respectively) within the individual and household assistance program. This is based on representative Jindal's disaster recovery act (h.r. 3747).
* doubling, on a sliding scale, the 15 percent disaster cost level to ensure that adequate measures are put in place to prevent future losses by expanding mitigation prevention programs. This is also called for in Jindal's disaster recovery act (h.r. 3747).
* allowing private educational institutions to be considered "critical services" so that schools can receive direct assistance from FEMA versus going first to sba for a disaster loan. Representative Jindal has pushed this issue with house leadership.
* requiring fema to prohibit the layers or tiers of contractors by precluding prime contractors from using subcontracts for more than 65 percent of the cost of the contract. Jindal called for a reduction in complex multi-tiered subcontracts that drive up costs in the contract transparency act (h.r. 5181).
* directing fema to implement an identity verification system that assures disaster assistance payments are made only to qualified individuals to eliminate waste, fraud, and abuse. This was included in Jindal's h.r. 6001, and the congressman earlier successfully added $1 million to the FY07 Homeland Security Appropriations bill to fund this provision.
* establishing Gulf Coast Recovery Offices to expedite recovery in Louisiana and the Gulf Coast by housing the appropriate personnel to eliminate backlog, enhancing the administering of assistance programs, providing long-term recovery plans, and conducting advice on mitigation and preparedness planning. These offices will provide continuity and minimize personnel turnover. This provision was the focus of Jindal's h.r. 5547. In addition, congressman Jindal included language in the dhs reauthorization bill (h.r. 1817) last year that requires DHS to present a regional office plan to serve Louisiana.
* establishing a national asset and inventory program to track and identify, in near real-time, community needs during a national emergency. Jindal successfully added $9 million to the fy07 homeland security appropriations bill to fund this provision.
* clarifies that "demolition and rebuilding" is a mitigation option available under the regular flood mitigation assistance program. Congressman Jindal offered this amendment FEMA interpreted the omission of "demolition and rebuilding" from the list of eligible activities under the fma as a limitation despite statutory language that allows approval of other activities not described in the national flood insurance reform act of 1994.
The reforms added in conference committee were part of a 10-point strategic plan introduced by congressman Jindal in may 2006 to reform the government's response to disasters. "I am very pleased that so many of my recommendations have been taken into account by the conference committee," Jindal added. "As we continue to rebuild our state, we must have the utmost confidence in fema and other federal agencies that they are working as efficiently and effectively as possible not only for the present, but for the future as well."
In the months following hurricanes Katrina and Rita, congressman Jindal has aggressively worked for reform of the current National Response System. indal successfully offered an amendment to the National Defense Authorization act (H.R. 5122), a bill that authorizes appropriations for the Department of Defense. Missing from the bill was preparation for an emergency response in which the military may be involved. Congressman Jindal's amendment instructs the Secretary of Defense to coordinate with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and state governments to develop detailed operational plans regarding the use of the military during natural disasters by creating a clear line of communication and responsibility in the event of a disaster.