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Mr. HUELSKAMP. Madam Chairman, my amendment seeks to ensure maximum transparency in a process which will see billions of taxpayer dollars distributed through FEMA grants. While I appreciate that a provision was included to require the disclosure of grants over $1 million, I believe we owe it to the taxpayers to do even more. My amendment strikes the $1 million threshold for disclosure, and it requires the details of all grants distributed under FEMA's disaster relief program to be disclosed.
Recently, a town in California was the subject of a FEMA Inspector General investigation. The FEMA IG found that the grantee received $830,000 following a recent flood. The town in question spent all of the allocated grant money and has requested reimbursement for $769,000 more. Among the inappropriate expenditures were a host of purchases that had nothing to do with the equipment damaged by the flood, including new chairs, computers, telephones, lamps, and a microwave. FEMA rejected the claim, fining these and numerous other attempts to claim reimbursement outside of the scope of the flood as well as outside of the terms of the grant.
While I commend FEMA for catching this attempted fraud, the sheer volume of grants that will come as a result of Sandy necessitates maximum transparency at the beginning of the process. My amendment requires just that. Let me give you one other example.
According to a September 2012 Department of Homeland Security IG report, I quote:
Following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005 and other disasters up to December 31, 2010, FEMA disbursed more than $8 billion in assistance payments, some of which were later determined to have been improperly paid to individuals who were ineligible or who received duplicate payments. The debts in question arose in part because FEMA relaxed its internal controls in order to provide the expedited delivery of assistance grants to displaced disaster survivors.
The relaxed internal controls involved improper payments of as much as $621 million to 167,488 recipients. According to the report, FEMA's efforts to recoup these improper payments resulted in $1.3 million collected thus far, but they spent $7.3 million to collect them--again, costing the taxpayers a net of $6 million. Why repeat a process like this if we can avoid it?
The paperwork is already being done on disaster relief grant applications. They're already being recorded on a computer somewhere in FEMA, so there are already disclosure procedures in place that can quickly and appropriately bring forward this information. According to the CBO, this amendment will have no budgetary impact. It simply does not create an undue burden to make the list public in a timely fashion.
I ask my colleagues to join me in injecting 100 percent transparency and accountability at the beginning of the process in order to help root out waste and fraud.
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