Report: FEMA misspent $7 million on warehouses
By Eileen Sullivan
WASHINGTON — The Federal Emergency Management Agency ignored the law and misused millions of dollars to build two warehouses after hurricanes Katrina and Rita, according to government investigators.
Some of the money FEMA misused should have gone toward Katrina victims in Louisiana, according to a Homeland Security Inspector General report obtained by The Associated Press. The report is expected to be released Thursday.
"FEMA had no authority to use appropriated funds to construct the two buildings," the investigators said, adding that the agency violated a prohibition against agreeing to spend money without congressional authority.
In the summer of 2006, FEMA spent more than $7 million on two warehouses the agency said it needed to repair trailers and mobile homes used by disaster victims. One of the warehouses was paid for from federal disaster relief fund, which investigators say is not permitted. The other warehouse was paid for with proceeds from sales of travel trailers and mobile homes _ also not allowed.
The report says senior officials at FEMA rejected the proposals for these warehouses, but they were built anyway.
Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., said this report confirms his ongoing concerns about FEMA's lax contracting policies.
"It shows, in this instance, FEMA's disregard for the law," said Thompson, who chairs the House Homeland Security committee. "This is another example of FEMA gone wild."
After the 2004 and 2005 hurricane seasons, FEMA set up 12 sites to store emergency housing units. Once hurricane victims left the disaster housing, the units were moved to these storage sites to be cleaned, repaired and refurbished. FEMA wanted to put up maintenance buildings at two of the sites _ Selma, Ala., and Cumberland, Md., the report said.
FEMA officials told the inspector general that senior agency officials "disallowed" the proposals to build these sites, but "eventually the projects were approved and funded," the report said.
The Cumberland building was delivered without electricity, lighting or other utilities and couldn't even be used for repairs, the report said.
FEMA spokesman Clark Stevens said he could not comment on a report that hasn't been released.
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