- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 15, 2005

Teams of auditors and investigators from the Department of Homeland Security expect to spend three to five years at hurricane recovery field offices in an attempt to prevent fraudulent use of more than $60 billion in relief funds.

“We’re going to prevent what is still going to happen, contract procurement irregularities,” said Tamara Faulkner, spokeswoman for the inspector general’s office.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency routinely uses inspector general auditors to monitor federal dollars that are sent to disaster zones, such as the hurricanes that hit Florida last year, but the Katrina operation and the potential for fraud is on “an unprecedented level,” Miss Faulkner said.

A team of 30 inspector general employees will hit the ground Monday at field offices in Baton Rouge, La., Montgomery, Ala., and Jackson, Miss., she said. Later next week, three auditors will be sent to Texas.

Although Congress gave authority to the department’s inspector general, Richard Skinner, to stop contract fraud and a $15 million budget to get started, some lawmakers want to create new watchdogs.

Sen. Susan Collins, Maine Republican and chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, yesterday introduced a bill to expand the jurisdiction of the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction to oversee the recovery efforts in the Gulf Coast region, with an $80 million budget.

“Already, some $2 billion per day is being spent on the recovery efforts. We simply cannot wait for existing structures to organize and ramp up or create a whole new bureaucracy that will take many months to get up and running,” Miss Collins said. “We need controls that are visible and on the ground as soon as possible.”

She and Sen. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut Democrat, said the Homeland Security Department’s inspector general is limited to watching spending within its own agency.

“The problem, however, is the spending’s going to cross department lines. It’s going to cross jurisdictional lines. And we believe that just beefing up the I.G. in the Department of Homeland Security won’t be adequate to the task,” Miss Collins said.

However, Mr. Skinner established a special inspector general working group among agencies that are expected to use hurricane relief funds, including the Departments of Defense, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, and the Environmental Protection Agency.

Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, Virginia Republican and chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, and Rep. Todd R. Platts, Pennsylvania Republican and chairman of the committee’s government management, finance and accountability subcommittee, asked Mr. Skinner in a letter yesterday to report by Tuesday how the various inspectors will work together.

“The inspectors general have long stood as a bulwark against such fraud and mismanagement,” the congressmen said.

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