As we recall former FEMA horse salesman Mike Brown's belligerent attempt to save his sorry butt before Congress last week, let us read this report which appeared in today's Inquirer, courtesy of the New York Times News Service.
Tons of ice, all for nothingUpdate 10/20: Liar, liar, pants on fire...
FEMA overbought for Katrina, and truckloads ended up in storage.
By Scott Shane and Eric Lipton
New York Times News Service
WASHINGTON - When the definitive story of the confrontation between Hurricane Katrina and the U.S. government is finally told, one long and tragicomic chapter will have to be reserved for the odyssey of the ice.
Ninety-one thousand tons of ice cubes, that is, intended to cool food, medicine and sweltering victims of the storm. It would cost taxpayers more than $100 million, and most of it would never be delivered.
The somewhat befuddled heroes of the tale will be truckers such as Mark Kostinec, who was dropping a load of beef in Canton, Ohio, on Sept. 2 when his dispatcher called with an urgent government job: Pick up 20 tons of ice in Greenville, Pa., and take it to Carthage, Mo., a staging area for the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Kostinec, 40, a driver for Universe Truck Lines of Omaha, Neb., was happy to help with the crisis. But at Carthage, instead of unloading, he was told to take his 2,000 bags of ice to Montgomery, Ala.
After a day and a half in Montgomery, he was sent to Camp Shelby, in Mississippi. From there, on Sept. 8, he was waved onward to Selma, Ala. And after two days in Selma, he was redirected to Emporia, Va., along with scores of other frustrated drivers who had been following similarly circuitous routes.
At Emporia, Kostinec sat for an entire week, his trailer burning fuel around the clock to keep the ice frozen, as FEMA officials studied whether supplies originally purchased for Hurricane Katrina might be used for Hurricane Ophelia. But in the end, only three of about 150 ice trucks were sent to North Carolina, he said. So on Sept. 17, Kostinec headed to Fremont, Neb., where he unloaded his ice into a government-rented storage freezer the next day.
"I dragged that ice around for 4,100 miles, and it never got used," Kostinec said. A former mortgage broker and Enron computer technician, he had learned to roll with the punches, and he was pleased to earn $4,500 for the trip, double his usual paycheck. He was perplexed, however, by the government's apparent bungling.
"They didn't seem to know how much ice they were buying and how much they were using," he said. "All the truckers said the money was good. But we were upset about not being able to help."
In the chaotic aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Kostinec's government-ordered meandering was not unusual. Partly because of the mass evacuation forced by Hurricane Katrina, and partly because of what an inspector general's report last week called a broken system for tracking goods at FEMA, the agency ordered far more ice than could be distributed to people who needed it.
More than a week after the storm, FEMA ordered 211 million pounds of ice for Hurricane Katrina, said Rob Holland, a spokesman for the Army Corps of Engineers, which buys the ice that FEMA requests under a contract with IAP Worldwide Services of Cape Canaveral, Fla. The company won the contract in competitive bidding in 2002, Holland said.
Officials eventually realized that the amount of ice was overkill and managed to cancel some of the orders. But the 182 million pounds actually supplied turned out to be far more than could be delivered to victims.
Of $200 million originally set aside for ice purchases, the bill for the Hurricane Katrina purchases so far is more than $100 million - and climbing, Holland said.
Reports such as Kostinec's have stirred concern on Capitol Hill, as more wearying evidence of the federal government's incoherent response to the catastrophe.
At a hearing on Wednesday, Sen. Susan Collins (R., Maine) expressed astonishment that many truckloads of ice had ended up in storage 1,600 miles from the Hurricane Katrina damage zone in her state, apparently because the storage contractor, AmeriCold Logistics, had run out of space farther south.
"The American taxpayers, and especially the Katrina victims, cannot endure this kind of wasteful spending," Collins said.
Asked about trips such as Kostinec's, Nicol Andrews, a FEMA spokeswoman, said: "He was put on call for a need and the need was not realized, so he went home. Any reasonable person recognizes the fact that it makes sense to prepare for the worst, hope for the best, and place your resources where they may be needed."