- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 24, 2009

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

In your editorial criticizing the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s handling of the post-Katrina recovery (“FEMA does another ‘heck of a job,’ ” Friday) you note an us-vs.-them mentality as a major cause. As a representative from Mississippi and chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, I am very troubled by the sluggish pace at which public assistance funds are being used in the wake of the 2005 hurricanes. I think the editorial was correct to express concern; however, we must look deeper before we begin pointing fingers at the states or at FEMA.

In fact, on Feb. 6, I wrote to FEMA Acting Administrator Nancy Ward expressing my concerns over this issue. I have requested an explanation for the slow pace at which these funds are being expended. Hopefully, I will have these questions answered before the committee’s oversight hearing on March 3, when we plan to explore these issues in greater detail. I believe Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano correctly made this a priority when she issued an action directive last month. In fact, the secretary is scheduled to receive a final report on Feb. 24 detailing what steps can be taken to resolve disputes concerning the public assistance projects.

The most recent reports from FEMA indicate that roughly half of the funds have been drawn down by the states. My committee has been told by FEMA that many of the delays are caused by the large scale of the rebuilding projects throughout Mississippi and Louisiana. At the same time, my committee has been told by local officials that the delays are caused by an overly bureaucratic process and FEMA’s rigid funding restrictions. These states, just like the rest of the nation, are under severe financial constraints. It is imperative that we break down this us-vs.-them mentality so states can effectively leverage these funds and rebuild.

REP. BENNIE G. THOMPSON

Chairman

House Committee on

Homeland Security

Washington

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