Guest column: FEMA: Emergencies aren't us
Martha Kegel thought she'd seen it all - the horror of the flooding of New Orleans, the callousness and incompetence of George Bush's response, the scandal of people still left homeless three years after the storm. Then she learned something that truly shocked her.
Ms. Kegel heads a non-profit group called Unity of Greater New Orleans, striving on a meager budget to help the displaced set up households. So she was stunned to hear that Bush's Federal Emergency Management Agency had recently given away $85-million worth of bedding, kitchen equipment, clothing, mops and brooms, cleansers, first-aid kits, and other family necessities. "These are exactly the items that we are desperately seeking donations of right now - basic kitchen [and] household supplies," said an exasperated Ms. Kegel.
It turns out that FEMA had such essentials sitting in warehouses for the past two years. But astonishingly, the perpetually clueless officials at FEMA decided this year that the supplies were no longer needed in the storm-wracked area. "We determined that they were excess to FEMA's needs," an agency spokesman curtly told CNN reporters. "Therefore, they are being excessed from FEMA's inventory."
One hundred and twenty-one truckloads of FEMA's "excess," so desperately needed by hard-hit families in the Crescent City, had been doled out instead to the Homeland Security Department, the Air Force, and other agencies. As for the people of New Orleans, FEMA claims ignorance, saying its officials simply didn't know that there was still a need there.
Excuse me, but this is our nation's emergency agency. It has an $8.2 billion annual budget. Aren't these officials supposed to know? Besides, Ms. Kegel says that FEMA did know, because her group told the agency's officials again and again that it was in urgent need of such supplies - but no one mentioned that tons of them were stored away uselessly in a FEMA warehouse.