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WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 15, 2006
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EDITORIAL

Let's rebuild Gulf Coast with speed and integrity

The government ineptness, the corruption, the lack of follow through after Hurricane Katrina will go down as one of the low moments in American history.

Taxpayers should not only be irate about the squandering of millions of dollars on belated hurricane relief, they need to be angry at those who allowed the growing scandal, and they should be determined to make changes.

Congressional hearings haven't yet gotten to the bottom of this unfolding story but some things are evident. The Bush administration, for whatever reasons, failed to act as quickly and decisively as needed and left New Orleans and much of the Gulf Coast helpless.

The catch-up solution was to flood the problem with millions of misdirected dollars as a way of demonstrating concern for the homeless, the hurting and the hungry.

What a mess.

The parade of shoddy box-type mobile homes headed south on the interstates finally slowed. Now, government auditors say, 10,777 of them are stuck in the mud in Arkansas, never used, but still a windfall for the manufacturers and, perhaps, politically connected wholesalers and retailers.

The government isn't responsible for the sorry episodes of individuals squandering government $2,000 handout-debit cards on things like massages, tattoos and at condom stores. During the chaos, getting all proper identification would have been impossible, but auditors said relief workers made little effort to ensure money went to legitimate victims.

Government funds also went for $350-a-night beachfront condos and ship berths that no victims used.

Not only was the Federal Emergency Management Agency woefully slow to act following the hurricane, the way it administered aid was shameful.

The politics of relief is as rancid. Of the $9.2 billion FEMA contracts awarded so far, the agency negotiated more than 700 valued at $500,000 or more. Big corporations friendly to the administration gobbled up millions. Some went to names as familiar in politics as Bechtel and Halliburton.

One close kin of Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour landed a multimillion-dollar contract.

Making the squandering a double tragedy is that thousands of displaced New Orleans residents still have no immediate hope for getting their lives back together.

One of the few things that makes sense in the hurricane aftermath came this week from U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby,R-Tuscaloosa, who is chairman of the Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee.

He plans hearings on a plan for a semi-private corporation proposal that would be the vehicle for restoring properties and then reselling them.

The senator, like so many other Americans, sees little good in restoring neighborhoods in areas that are prone to flooding. He said he doesn't want to waste money.

But unless some policies change, much of the $150 billion projected for recovery spending over the next five years will also disappear.

Let us hope the senator has his finger on the nation's pulse when it comes to reckless spending and realizes a voter backlash is a distinct possibility unless the government establishes tight controls on who spends the money and how they spend it.

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