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Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Blogosphere Could Expose FEMA Disaster Relief Abuse

Just as it is already doing with the MSM, the Blogosphere can generate more openness and accountability in government. To see why, check out this email I received today from Gloria Pappas in response to Townhall.com's posting of my latest Knight Ridder Tribune FOI Series column:

"Mr.Tapscott, thank you for publishing this article today. I learned some of what you reported when I volunteered as a Red Cross Disaster Helper in South Alabama a few years ago when that terrible hurricane hit. The water table of the ocean was actually raised so high that the water came into the bottom floors of the hotels close to the beach. The groups and businesses mostly hurt were those who could afford property on or very close to the beach and the hotels and businesses-the kinds of properties most likely to have private insurance on them.
What I learned there though shocked me and was very disappointing.The whole natural "disaster" act of God was used to refurnish properties like decades old trailers and huts and lean tos, and shacks. Some of them according to one owner who confessed it to me, 'had been paid for three times by FEMA.' In other words, every time a hurricane comes ashore the fraud artists turn out in droves. The attempt to turn acts of God into a financial windfall of more money than some would have in a lifetime of no skills and no interests in gaining any, is reknown!
The idea that FEMA can or should attempt to indemnify owners of shacks, trailers, lean-tos and other inadequate housing, or even the very rich for acts of God is preposterous. It is not the duty of government to do that! It is not the duty of taxpayers to provide a billion dollar slush fund for the governors of coastal states. It is not the duty of the federal government to indemnify anybody. Thank you for publishing the article! I hope it accomplishes great things."

My column was based on reporting by The Ft. Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel and describes some of the newspaper's findings from its FOIA to FEMA for details about who received how much disaster relief earlier this year. The column was not meant to denigrate the tremendous work of FEMA, state and local officials or private relief workers, but rather to focus attention on the need for FOIA laws to prevent such abuse of tax dollars as was reported by the Sun-Sentinel.

What caught my eye in Gloria's email was the FEMA aid beneficiary claiming he had been paid three times for the same structure. How many verifiable examples of disaster aid abuse could be generated by bloggers in Florida and elsewhere along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts? My guess is lots. And the day is not far off when bloggers are routinely doing such accountability journalism on programs at all levels of government. The question now is how do we encourage that development?