Testimony of Congressman Steve Scalise
Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings, and Emergency Management
Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure
Hearing on Final Breakthrough on the Billion Dollar Katrina Infrastructure Logjam: How is it Working?
Ms. Norton and Mr. Diaz-Balart, thank you for having this hearing today and for allowing me to submit this testimony. This subcommittee has held numerous hearings on a wide variety of issues concerning our recovery. On behalf of my constituents, I thank you for your hard work and commitment to Gulf Coast hurricane recovery.
I also want to thank Paul Rainwater with the Louisiana Recovery Authority, St. Bernard Parish President Craig Taffaro, and the other officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Civilian Board of Contract Appeals who are here today. Mr. Rainwater and President Taffaro know firsthand what state and local governments must go through following a disaster, as well as what problems the infrastructure logjams have caused. I look forward to working with the witnesses at today's hearing as we try to break through these logjams that are delaying Louisiana's recovery and make the necessary reforms that will improve disaster recovery, including FEMA's Public Assistance (PA) program, in the future.
Over the past several months, there have been hearings and roundtables on Katrina and Rita recovery in which myself and members of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee have participated. These hearings have shed light on the delays and red tape that have delayed our recovery and caused problems for State and local governments and other public entities. They have also focused much needed resources and attention on completing PA projects and breaking through the infrastructure logjams.
As a result, we have seen positive results come out of these hearings, including new leadership in FEMA's New Orleans office, the appointment of the Public Assistance Project Decision Team, and the closeout of many outstanding Project Worksheets. In addition, FEMA has released draft loan forgiveness guidelines for Hurricane Katrina Community Disaster Loans (CDL) and announced plans for the arbitration panel that will help resolve some of the remaining PA projects.
All of these steps have been encouraging and will help us break through the logjams that have prevented us from solving many of the recovery projects that have been stuck in FEMA's bureaucracy. I appreciate the work that has been done over the last several months to speed up our recovery. But even with these positive steps, I think we can all agree that we still have a long way to go before our recovery is complete.
Louisiana and FEMA officials must get on the same page over the exact number of outstanding PA projects. We can't expect to break through the logjam of PA projects if both sides do not agree on what projects are in dispute. Congressmen Mica and Cao and I have pushed for this, and we will continue to do so until both parties can come to a solution.
We must also continue to break through the red tape and eliminate the funding delays that are hurting our recovery and the ability of local governments and other entities that serve the public to budget and plan for the future. One key step to do this will be the issuance of the final rules for CDL forgiveness. Our local governments, fire departments, universities, and hospitals have been waiting on these rules for more than two years. Most of them have continued to face large debts and continue to struggle with their recovery as a result. It is imperative that the rules are finalized as soon as possible.
We must also continue to speed up our recovery and identify reforms that must be made to prevent the delays Louisiana has faced from happening in the future. That's why I introduced H.R. 3453, the Disaster Recover Improvement Act. This legislation will make reforms to the Stafford Act that will expedite disaster recovery and provide incentives for state and local governments to plan ahead for future disasters. I am committed to working with the Members of this subcommittee on H.R. 3453, and I look forward to enacting the policies that are in my legislation.
As I stated before, we have seen positive results out of the previous hearings and meetings. I hope that trend continues after today. We must build on the steps that have been taken over the last several months and continue to improve and expedite our recovery. We must identify solutions, and we must see results. It has been over four years since Hurricanes Katrina and Rita the citizens of Louisiana should not have to wait any longer. I appreciate your assistance in helping resolve these issues.