Chris posted yesterday that forced evictions have begun for thousands of Katrina evacuees previously being housed in hotels and motels after FEMA cut off any further funding. He also mentioned the Hope Arkansas trailers.

The New York Times has more on the trailers today. While 12,000 families are being evicted, and tens of thousands more are in need of housing, it seems there are nearly 10,000 trailers purchased at a cost of nearly $1 billion deteriorating in a muddy field in Arkansas:

Only about 2,700 of the 25,000 mobile homes ordered at a cost of $850 million have been installed, and at least 10,000 are sitting in Hope, Ark., according to documents and statements from Federal Emergency Management Agency officials. Though about 55,000 Louisiana families are still waiting for a manufactured housing unit, the mobile homes may never be used because FEMA regulations prohibit them from being installed in flood-prone coastal areas, federal officials said.

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In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, FEMA ordered far too many mobile homes and too few travel trailers, which are smaller, less expensive and more portable, and can be placed on lots in the disaster zone. The federal government had expected that Louisiana officials would identify sites inland where the mobile homes could be placed. But so far, with just a few exceptions, they has not done so, officials said.

"If sites for those mobile homes are not approved in Louisiana, it is possible they will never be used for hurricane relief," said Nicol Andrews, a FEMA spokesman.

The article says the trailers are sinking in the mud, warping, losing parts, and being cannibalized, and that they will probably have to be sold off as surplus at a fraction of their original cost. The dispute over where to put the trailers involves FEMA's own rules, the same FEMA that ordered the trailers. Unbelievable.

Meanwhile, the Washington Post reports more massive fraud in Katrina relief efforts:

The extent of the fraud in the $6 billion evacuee-assistance effort has not been calculated, but it could reach hundreds of millions of dollars, investigators told the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, and it appears that the losses were limited only by the thieves' ingenuity.

"It was a mess. It was a system that was wide open to fraud," said Gregory D. Kutz, who led the investigation for the Government Accountability Office. "All you had to do was call FEMA on the telephone and lie and you could get money. It was just a question of how many people were willing to make false statements."

The report came amid a stream of revelations yesterday regarding questionable activity during the relief effort -- including $438-a-night lodging in New York, emergency meals being sold on eBay, and emergency checks being used to buy adult entertainment and weapons.
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Investigators said that so far they have learned that about 1,000 people who applied for aid used the Social Security numbers of dead people, 1,000 used numbers that were never issued, and tens of thousands used names, birthdates and Social Security numbers that did not match.

In one case cited by the GAO report, for example, one person used 15 Social Security numbers to submit 15 applications over the phone and received payments totaling $41,000, including 13 emergency-assistance payments, two payments for temporary housing assistance and a payment of $10,500.

FEMA says they didn't want to slow down the process of getting people aid by enforcing more extensive verification of claims, and that they are now going back to investigate suspected cases of fraud after the fact. That almost sounds reasonable, and may be one of the few times they actually tried to do the right thing by people.

But each new revelation paints a picture of a disorganized response by a "dysfunctional" agency now scrambling to make excuses for their incompetence and mismanagement. After all this, how can Americans have confidence in the Department of Homeland Security? Heaven forbid there is another Katrina-scale disaster, or a terrorist attack, before it can be fixed.