Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Feckless FEMA Fraud

I know I shouldn’t feel this way, but whenever I hear about another FEMA screwup, I just shake my head and say, “So what else is new?”

The latest hit to the reputation of this once-proud agency, coming on the heels of Mike (“City of Louisiana”) Chertoff’s ridiculous funding decisions, is the news that possibly a billion dollars was improperly charged on debit cards issued by the agency (but of course, these card charges are valid if you consider adult erotica products or funding for prison inmates already housed to be legitimate disaster relief expenses).

Somehow deep down, though, I think FEMA’s problems go beyond mere incompetence and reflect the worst sort of typical Bushco cronyism, using the agency to funnel funds to the favored few who support this sickening regime.

Where to begin? Let’s go back, shall we, to last November.

In this USA Today article, writer Kevin McCoy notes the following:

Since late September, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has awarded Titan a $450,000 contract for a mobile emergency response vehicle and a $107,058 contract for emergency housing work, according to government records and interviews.

Titan is a defendant in two federal lawsuits that allege the company acted negligently in its hiring and supervision of a translator suspected of abusing Abu Ghraib prisoners.
In the text available from this link, it is noted that two employees with ties to Titan, someone named “John Israel” and an unnamed cab driver, have faced or are facing legal trouble (look under the MITRE logo for more information…the information on this page is interesting enough to merit a whole other post). The cab driver was apparently arrested on espionage charges, and Israel is “suspected of abusing prisoners at Abu Ghraib.”

But according to the USA Today story…

Titan, a 24-year-old firm based in San Diego, has roughly $2 billion in annual sales generated largely by federal defense and homeland security contracts. Titan received the new disaster awards as job orders under a 1998 umbrella contract awarded by the General Services Administration (GSA) through competitive bidding, the agency said.

Umbrella contracts, officially known as schedules, enable multiple federal agencies to obtain services more quickly by drawing on a pre-approved award.

Titan has received more than $492 million under the umbrella contract so far, said Edward Rossillo, a GSA spokesman.
So for a contract award to provide mobile emergency response vehicles to FEMA (at a cost of about $450K per vehicle, with the excuse for the cost being that they are mobile command and control vehicles ordered before Katrina hit), the agency used Titan, which is essentially a communications company.

If Titan’s business is communications, then what are their “employees” doing at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib?

Also, we know about Dubya’s illegal NSA spying, of course. Did you know, though, that Titan was awarded a contract from the NSA for its “Enterprise Architecture and Decision Support (EADS) Program” the same year that Dubya authorized the illegal spying?

So we have FEMA linked to Titan, a company with involvement in the Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo scandals, which may very well have a hand in the NSA spying also.


Something else I wanted to point out from the original USA Today story was the amount of contracts awarded by state to assist in Hurricane Katrina-related recovery efforts. And guess which state received the largest amount of money?

If you said Texas, you’d be wrong, but not by much. Nope, the honor for that one goes to the Hoosier State itself, Indiana.

As noted in this Indianapolis Star article...

Hurricane Katrina did more than just leave a trail of destruction on the Gulf Coast.

It paved the road, albeit tragically, for Hoosier businesses to land $586 million -- or roughly a fourth -- of the $2.3 billion in federal contracts to rebuild the region.

Indiana's burgeoning recreational vehicle industry landed the bulk of the business to provide temporary housing for Katrina victims.
Call me crazy to ask this, but isn’t putting people up in hotels or other types of mass shelter more cost efficient (to say nothing of making more sense overall) after a natural disaster than to put them up in a bunch of recreational vehicles?

If you think something doesn’t smell right about this like I do, then I should point this out from the story also:

...Some Democrats in Congress and the watchdog group Taxpayers for Common Sense have questioned whether political connections had something to do with the awarding of some of the largest FEMA contracts, according to The Associated Press.

Critics note that Gulf Stream (Gulf Stream Coach, the company that won the largest amount of money) founder James F. Shea and his family have contributed more than $20,000 to GOP candidates, including President Bush and Rep. Bob Ney, R-Ohio.

Gulf Stream officials did not return phone calls seeking comment.
No, I don’t expect that they would, would they?

After reading about all of this, I felt like I was in the mood for some Clinton-era nostalgia back in the days when FEMA was actually managed properly, and I came across this speech by James Lee Witt about his vision of FEMA and how he ran that organization as recently as six years ago. For a time, it enabled me to forget the squalid mess that this agency has become as part of Bushco’s game of using it to funnel money to its friends and cover up its other illegal activities that are too numerous to mention (it will take years to untangle all of this regime’s nefarious schemes).

And with the hurricane season upon us again and the same cast of characters in place (absent a Democratic majority in either house of Congress), all we have to look forward to is more of the same.

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