Network News

X My Profile
View More Activity
Posted at 6:00 AM ET, 01/ 4/2011

FEMA hasn't recouped $643 million, watchdog says

By Ed O'Keefe

Eye Opener

The Federal Emergency Management Agency hasn't recouped about $643 million in federal disaster relief funds improperly distributed to about 160,000 victims of Hurricane Katrina and other natural disasters, according to a new watchdog report.

A report released late Monday by the Department of Homeland Security's inspector general urges FEMA to promptly authorize the collection of the potentially improper payments.

The audit comes amid renewed political pressure to cut federal spending and curtail improper payments to fraudulent beneficiaries and delinquent government contractors. Federal agencies and departments made about $125 billion in improper payments during fiscal 2010, due mostly to increased unemployment insurance and Medicaid payments, according to Obama administration officials.

Once a president declares a federal disaster, storm survivors may apply for financial assistance, including reimbursement for home repairs, medical needs and storage. FEMA has distributed more than $7 billion in payments to about 5.5 million survivors of disasters since hurricanes Katrina and Rita, according to FEMA.

But multiple congressional and watchdog investigations published since 2005 detail hundreds of millions of dollars in potentially improper payments. FEMA made nearly $17 million in rental assistance payments to storm victims living in agency-funded trailers, according to a 2006 Government Accountability report. The agency also distributed about $20 million to storm victims who cited the same property when seeking assistance after both Katrina and Rita, despite federal rules that prohibit survivors from making multiple disaster requests for the same property.

Delays in recouping the improper payments stem from a June 2007 federal court ruling that ordered FEMA to stop collection activities until it changed the collection process. New procedures have been awaiting approval since 2008, but neither current FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate nor his Bush-era predecessors have approved the plans, according to the audit.

"Further delay only makes aging debts more difficult to collect," Homeland Security Inspector General Richard L. Skinner wrote in his report.

FEMA is "committed to being responsible stewards of taxpayer dollars" and has been working to finalize plans to recoup misspent funds since before the audit, according to spokeswoman Rachel Racusen. Fugate is expected to approve changes to the collections process soon, she said.

The report's publication came on the same day that House Republican leaders detailed plans to investigate allegations of waste, fraud and abuse across the federal government.

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), incoming chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, intends to focus on the "institutionalized culture of waste, fraud and abuse" within the federal bureaucracy, his spokesman, Kurt Bardella, told The Post. "The enemy isn't the Democrats or the Republicans," Bardella said. "It's the bureaucracy that outlasts any one administration or political party."

In recent months, the administration and lawmakers have taken steps in a bipartisan fashion to better monitor potentially fraudulent payments. Legislation signed by President Obama last July requires agencies and departments to spend at least $1 million annually to recoup improper payments. The Improper Payments Elimination and Recovery Act of 2010, which passed with bipartisan support, also orders agencies to cut overpayment errors and sets penalties for agencies that fail to comply.

RELATED: Director W. Craig Fugate refocusing a chastened FEMA

Leave your thoughts in the comments section below

Cabinet and Staff News: Is William Daley joining the Obama administration? Former Pentagon official found dead in a Delaware landfill. Homeland Security Janet Napolitano meets with Israeli President Shimon Peres.

DEFENSE DEPARTMENT:
U.S.-funded infrastructure deteriorates once under Afghan control, report says: Troops in Afghanistan have spent $2 billion over six years on 16,000 humanitarian projects through the Commander's Emergency Response Program.

Navy's quick condemnation of raunchy videos wins praise from gay rights groups: The Navy moved quickly on Monday to pledge to investigate lewd videos.

FDA:
FDA prepares to enact new food-safety law: The agency is already working to write the regulations needed to enact the bill.

GOVERNMENT WORK/LIFE/OPERATIONS:
Strained states turning to laws to curb unions: Officials in at least four states are pushing new legislation to limit the power of labor unions, particularly those representing government workers, in collective bargaining and politics.

Federal breast-feeding policy detailed: Workers who need to breast-feed on the job should be given a reasonable amount of time, must be provided access to a clean, private room and might not be paid while doing so.

HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES:
House sets Jan. 12 vote on repeal of health-care law: The announcement Monday sets up the health-care law's repeal as the first significant legislative action by House Republicans in the 112th Congress.

INTERIOR DEPARTMENT:
Some deep-water gulf drilling allowed to resume: The department says companies can restart work at 16 wells but must meet new safety standards.

JUSTICE DEPARTMENT:
Obama may bypass Guantánamo rules, aides say: His legal advisers are debating whether to recommend that he issue a signing statement asserting that his executive powers would allow him to bypass any restrictions.

LABOR DEPARTMENT:
Longtime tug of war on mine safety: With memories of the nation's worst coal mining accident still fresh, the administration is challenging coal companies to either change their tactics and voluntarily improve safety or face harsh government sanctions.

NTSB:
Investigators urge pipeline measure: The agency issued six urgent safety recommendations Monday to alert pipeline operators and regulators to the dangers of inaccurate pipeline records.

U.S. POSTAL SERVICE:
Impasse appears possible in postal labor talks: Labor contract talks between the U.S. Postal Service and its largest union are not at an impasse -- but they may be heading there.

Follow The Federal Eye on Twitter | Submit your news tips here

By Ed O'Keefe  | January 4, 2011; 6:00 AM ET
Categories:  Eye Opener, Oversight  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: D.C. schools general counsel tapped to lead Legal Services Corp.
Next: Postal union 'frustrated' by pace of negotiations

Comments

Can anyone explain how this sentence makes any sense whatsoever?: "Federal agencies and departments made about $125 billion in improper payments during fiscal 2010, due mostly to increased unemployment insurance and Medicaid payments."

Due mostly? Are there not two root causes for virtually all improper payments? a) bureucrats who fail in their job of oversight b) claimants who commit fraud.

The issue that needs exploring, on a large, systemic grand scale, is how do we make government as efficient as a private business when it disburses funds? Yep, its good to try and get the money back. But we NEVER get back all the money, and I NEVER read about anyone being canned for authorizing BILLIONs in improper payments. Occasionally, you'll read about someone or group being prosecuted for fraud, and many times you are speaking of individuals with individually relatively small amounts and prosecutors are "too busy," "understaffed" etc.

It's like illegal immigration: don't spend time trying to scoop up every illegal. Just make it impossible for them to work here. That's the Obama way! Let's do it with this massive fraud as well. Make it impossible to disburse money improperly. Fire those who do.

Posted by: Curmudgeon10 | January 4, 2011 6:36 AM | Report abuse

Post a Comment

We encourage users to analyze, comment on and even challenge washingtonpost.com's articles, blogs, reviews and multimedia features.

User reviews and comments that include profanity or personal attacks or other inappropriate comments or material will be removed from the site. Additionally, entries that are unsigned or contain "signatures" by someone other than the actual author will be removed. Finally, we will take steps to block users who violate any of our posting standards, terms of use or privacy policies or any other policies governing this site. Please review the full rules governing commentaries and discussions.




characters remaining

 
 
RSS Feed
Subscribe to The Post

© 2011 The Washington Post Company