Saturday, September 24, 2005

Democrats criticize accounting of Katrina money


Democrats criticize accounting of Katrina money

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Bush administration has failed to provide enough details on how billions of dollars in emergency funds for Gulf Coast states hit by Hurricane Katrina were being spent, a senior Democrat in the U.S. House of Representatives said on Friday.

"We asked for specific information on how they (FEMA) are awarding contracts and who contracts are going to," said Rep. David Obey of Wisconsin, the senior Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee.

"Instead of telling us who is doing what and how, we got a few spreadsheets."

The information provided by the administration lists broad allocations of funds for a range of government programs, such as $2.3 billion for "housing assistance," $3.1 billion for "missions" under a category called "operations," and $3.5 billion for "missions" under a category called "administration of field operations."

Congress has approved $62.3 billion in emergency aid to Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and other Gulf Coast states following the late August destruction by Hurricane Katrina. The White House is expected to ask for more money soon.

The post-hurricane funds are dwarfing the $43.9 billion the government shelled out following the September 11, 2001, attacks.

Under the law providing the disaster funds, the Bush administration must provide Congress with weekly updates on the pace of spending.

The latest report, sent to Congress on Thursday, indicated that nearly $16 billion had been allocated by FEMA, the agency in charge of most of the rescue and clean-up effort.

The Army Corps of Engineers, which received $400 million in additional funds from Congress, reported that it expects "nearly all of the funds to be allocated by next week."

Spokesmen at the Department of Homeland Security were not available for comment.

The Bush administration came under intense criticism in the days after Hurricane Katrina for what was perceived as a slow emergency response.

Since then, congressional lawmakers have argued over the best way to investigate the federal government's disaster response and the most effective way to make sure emergency funds were not wasted.

Besides asking for details on the awarding of contracts, Obey and Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia, the Senate Appropriations Committee senior Democrat, have asked for details on credit card purchases by government officials.