Two excellent pieces today on the corporate interests moving in to benefit from the Katrina disaster. Charlie Cray of Halliburton Watch has a good overview of post-hurricane disaster profiteering, including this item:
Since 1989, KBR's Government and Infrastructure Division has made $3 billion cleaning up damage caused by natural and man-made disasters, including tens of millions after last year's hurricanes in Florida. So there you go: If you're in the right business, there's bound to be a lot of money in global warming, and Halliburton seems to be making money on both ends of that one.
Cray is nonplussed by administration promises that the Department of Homeland Security will prevent contracting scandals like those which happened in Iraq:
Meanwhile, FEMA is talking about using the Department of Homeland Security's inspector general to prevent the kind of massive waste, fraud and abuse witnessed in the Iraq reconstruction contracts. But the problems are so deeply embedded in the process that a token watchdog will hardly make a difference. The contracts will probably include "cost-plus" clauses, which KBR whistleblowers have testified create a culture of waste and fraud.
Already, there are signs that similar problems could occur in the Gulf. A provision in the relief bill which raises the spending limit on government credit cards used for Katrina-related purchases to $250,000 from $15,000 per transaction is intended to allow officials to buy needed supplies more quickly than if they went through normal procurement channels, but it will also likely lead to much waste and abuse. Moreover, this time, U.S. taxpayers will foot the bill: the Federal Reserve won't be able to fly in pallet-loads of $100 bills allocated out of the "Iraqi peoples" oil revenues, for which there has still been little accountability.
The Washington Post points to the reason why the idea of DHS/FEMA internal oversite doesn't inspire confidence:
FEMA's track record in managing much smaller amounts of money has raised concerns. It made millions of dollars in questionable payments to South Florida residents after Hurricane Frances last year, investigators found, in part because the agency's contractors had hired inspectors who lacked training or oversight. A recent audit by the Homeland Security Department's inspector general questioned whether FEMA's acquisition workforce was qualified.
The issue isn't just the potential for scandal and fraud, as we've seen with Iraq contracts. The bigger problem is that many of the people tasked with leading the Gulf reconstruction effort are first and foremost politicos and friends of corporate lobbyists, not skilled disaster managers or urban planners.
Our main task now is to ensure that the rebuilding of New Orleans and surrounding devastated areas, as much as possible, is led by the people themselves -- not the powerful interests seeking to turn a buck.