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September 17, 2005
Louisiana DHS Officials Under Indictment As Levees Broke

One of the events that any inquest into Hurricane Katrina and its devastation must explain why the state and local agencies did not follow their own emergency plans or put all their assets in the field. The response appeared sluggish and confused, and the emergency operations plans approved by the state and on which the federal government relied never got implemented.

Now the Los Angeles Times reports that several officials of the Louisiana state Department of Homeland Security had already been indicted on charges of misappropriation of government funds, waste, and mismanagement. FEMA had sent millions of dollars to Louisiana to help them prepare for an event like Katrina, but no one knows what happened to the cash:

Senior officials in Louisiana's emergency planning agency already were awaiting trial over allegations stemming from a federal investigation into waste, mismanagement and missing funds when Hurricane Katrina struck.

And federal auditors are still trying to track as much as $60 million in unaccounted for funds that were funneled to the state from the Federal Emergency Management Agency dating back to 1998. ...

For instance, a Nov. 30, 2004, report by Tonda L. Hadley, a director in the Denton field office, examined $40.5 million sent to the Louisiana agency, mostly for the Hazard Mitigation program. The report found that the state's emergency office did not have receipts to account for 97% of the $15.4 million it had awarded to subcontractors on 19 major projects.

Even in the notoriously corrupt government of Louisiana, having receipts for only three percent of government spending has to set a new record for opacity. Those undocumented expenditures will no doubt implicate the subcontractors in some sort of money-laundering scheme, especially if the investigation finds that little of the work got performed -- and based on the response to Katrina, that appears to be the case in general, if not in specifics.

More money got sent to Aegis Innovative Systems, a consultant firm that ate up most of $2.8 million in government grants for that purpose. Aegis, it turns out, is run by Michael Howard, a former Louisiana DHS official. More money went to buying LL Bean parkas, a Ford Crown Victoria, a junket to Germany for the DHS director, and so on. $10.7 million earmarked for buying up low-level property for condemnation and conversion to non-residential use wound up in the coffers of other government agencies and consultants.

It looks like the DHS officials in Louisiana wanted to prepare for a rainy day, but just not for the kind of rainy day that Katrina brought the Gulf Coast. The feds had already tried to clean house where the state couldn't or wouldn't, bringing indictments against the deputy director of hazard mitigation, Michael L. Brown (no relation to the former FEMA director) and Michael C. Appe, who led a team tasked with identifying abuses. Louisiana put the foxes in charge of the henhouse, it seems.

All of this shows that Louisiana left itself woefully unprepared for the catastrophic damage of Katrina. Small wonder that state and local officials reacted like deer in the headlights of an oncoming truck in the days before and after landfall. Funds that could have gone towards emergency preparedness, identificantion and abeyance of hazardous materials, and especially identifying fraud and abuse went elsewhere. Now Louisianans and New Orleans' evacuees must pay the price for the corruption and incompetence of not only their leadership but also their bureaucracy. Is it difficult to understand why more than half of the displaced have little desire to return?

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at September 17, 2005 9:09 AM

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Several days ago, I posted a bit about Louisiana emergency officials being indicted for 'lost' FEMA money. The LA Times' Ken Silverstein and Josh Meyer have more about how Louisiana officials prepared for a rainy day (hat tip: Captain's Quarters) [Read More]

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