Monday, September 19, 2005

III FEMA Failure Festival...

...and J Bradford DeLong Reputation Memorial continues with this from the July 9, 1997 Los Angeles Times:

Officials with the Federal Emergency Management Agency backed off their claim Tuesday that Orange County owes the federal agency more than $4 million in disaster relief stemming from severe flood damage in 1995.

FEMA Director James L. Witt said Tuesday in light of his own agency's "numerous mistakes," it is suspending efforts to collect an estimated $4.15 million from Orange County. But Witt warned Orange County to have the sum ready in case a new FEMA investigation discovered the sum is, in fact, owed.

In June, FEMA officials contended Orange County was essentially paid twice for damages to county flood control basins in 1995. Last month, FEMA officials said they sent Orange County two payments for flood damages--one for $4.15 million and another for $5 million.

At that time, county officials responded they only received $4.15 million and had already spent those funds on flood repairs.

On Tuesday, Rep. Jay C. Kim (R-Diamond Bar), who sided with the county in the dispute, criticized FEMA.

"Mr. Witt's response to my concerns shows that FEMA does not really know what is going on," said Kim. "Orange County should not have to pay for FEMA's mistakes."

FEMA officials again warned county officials that an estimated $27 million in pending damage claims also from the 1995 disaster will probably not be paid by FEMA, or by any federal or state agency.

Ernie Banks-like, let's play two with this from the July 26, 1997 Spokane Spokesman Review:


"Bizarre" is the way a Federal Emergency Management Agency spokesman responded to news of last week's raid on a Clearwater County [Idaho] disaster office.

Morrie Goodman, FEMA's communications director, had not heard of the raid until Friday. Nor had he seen a Thursday letter from Idaho Rep. Helen Chenoweth objecting to the raid and its aftermath.

The letter was directed to James Lee Witt, director of the agency best known for its humanitarian mission of helping disaster victims. Chenoweth reviewed the July 19 confiscation of records, which was carried out by agents wearing bulletproof vests and accompanied by state police.

"I can assure you that kind of thing is very bizarre," Goodman said from his Washington, D.C., office. "I've been here for five years, and it's never happened in my tenure."

People in Orofino have been wondering whether they were the victims of an unusually harsh investigation.

"We've tried to find out if others are treated this way," said County Commissioner Earl Pickett. "I'm sure both sides overreacted on that initial day. They acted in a manner that was totally unacceptable ... And for a backwoods county like we are, it was really surprising to us and very alarming."

A grand jury investigation is under way, apparently into the county's handling of money it received from FEMA after 1996 floods.

It's extremely rare that anyone is charged or convicted with illegally using disaster-relief funds, according to Goodman.

....Copies of Chenoweth's letter sent to the media detailed not only her concern about the heavy-handed nature of the raid, but also the problems caused by the loss of 40 boxes of county records.

Included were documents needed to collect money from FEMA, which Clearwater County needs to pay off a $1.1 million bank loan used to rebuild its roads.

"The loan is due in September, and without the records, the county is at risk of default," Chenoweth wrote.

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