[StBernard] Landrieu Highlights Project Worksheet Problem

Westley Annis westley at da-parish.com
Wed Jul 11 00:03:26 EDT 2007

Landrieu Highlights Project Worksheet Problem Disaster Recovery Subcommittee

FEMA red tape inhibiting recovery.

WASHINGTON - United States Senator Mary L. Landrieu, D-La., today chaired a
hearing on the process localities must go through to complete Federal
Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) project worksheets (PWs), a requirement
for receiving federal funds. As a result of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita,
there are 23,000 public works projects in Louisiana, and each one requires
complicated, time consuming steps in order to receive FEMA funds.

"The project worksheet system is inefficient, slow and contradictory," Sen.
Landrieu said. "Anyone who comes in contact with it quickly understands it
is one of the major roadblocks to our recovery from Katrina and Rita.
Destroyed localities with no tax base are required to put up money in
advance. Work is reviewed not just building-by-building but segment by
segment. Tens of thousands of documents must be completed for a single
project. Communities are prevented from building better and smarter. Our
locals must re-justify their projects because of FEMA's high employee
turnover. And FEMA inspectors systematically low ball damage estimates, in
some cases by four or five times."

The first panel of witnesses that testified before the Senate Homeland
Security and Governmental Affairs Disaster Recovery Subcommittee included
locally elected officials who each testified that FEMA is tied up in
bureaucracy and undermines the recovery by continually underestimating
project costs and hiring inexperienced personnel.

The officials included: C. Ray Nagin, Mayor of New Orleans; Kevin Davis,
President of St. Tammany Parish; and Henry "Junior" Rodriguez, President of
St. Bernard Parish.

St. Bernard Parish was completely destroyed by Hurricane Katrina, displacing
67,500 people, and President Rodriguez said FEMA was primarily responsible
for the slow pace of recovery. In one example, he explained that the parish
sought to consolidate its sewer system into one wastewater plant, a less
costly approach than repairing or replacing the pre-storm system. FEMA has
told the parish to pursue the project in three different ways but because of
FEMA's red tape, the parish still lacks a working sewer system and instead
pumps out waste by the truckload.

"We got by Katrina and Rita," President Rodriguez said. "I don't know if we
can get through FEMA. This is one hell of a catastrophe. We're still working
out of trailers. We're in no better shape now than we were two years ago."

Mayor Nagin added that the constant FEMA staff turnover requires New Orleans
to repeatedly justify the need for public works projects.

"Every couple of months we seem to have dealt with a different FEMA
representative," Mayor Nagin said. "And we almost had to start from scratch
every time a new person came in."

Witnesses who testified on the second panel included: Colonel Jeff Smith,
Executive Director, Louisiana Governor's Office of Homeland Security and
Emergency Preparedness; Bryan McDonald, Executive Director, Mississippi
Governor's Office of Recovery and Renewal; Mark Merritt, Senior Vice
President of Response and Recovery, James Lee Witt Associates.

Merritt, who worked for FEMA under Director James Lee Witt from 1993 until
2001, testified that FEMA is measuring its progress by the number of project
worksheets written.

"We should be counting the number of schools, hospitals and miles of roads
repaired and replaced, not the number of PWs written," he said. Merritt
added that FEMA is a much different agency than when he worked there. He
said the agency no longer employs the necessary staff to deal with
catastrophic disasters and that 80 percent of FEMA employees sent to
Louisiana following the hurricanes had just nine days of experience. FEMA
staff tasked with Gulf Coast recovery lack the experience to recognize
flexibility in the Stafford Act, which is the "core of what is inhibiting
the PW process," he said.

The final witness to testify was James Walke, Director of FEMA's Public
Assistance Division.

"This hearing made perfectly clear that what is stymieing our recovery is
not the will of the people," Sen. Landrieu said. "It is the bureaucracy of
the government."

"This agency needs to do a much better job of listening and working with
local officials who have a better sense of what it takes to rebuild their
localities. Moving forward, FEMA must judge the recovery progress following
a disaster on infrastructure rebuilt, not project worksheets completed.

"I will continue to work with my colleagues on the Disaster Recovery
Committee to ensure when the next disaster strikes the United States, be it
natural or manmade, a reformed FEMA responds quickly, efficiently and

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