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Public Statements

Making Emergency Supplemental Appropriations for the Fiscal Year Ending September 30, 2006--Resumed

Location: Washington, DC



Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, I thank Senator Obama for his hard work. Soon after Katrina hit, one of the things that we noticed from our Federal Financial Oversight Committee was a lack of transparency and accountability in a lot of what the Corps of Engineers does, that FEMA does. We put forward a bill which did not make it out but certainly should have, especially in hindsight, with the waste, fraud, and abuse. I am not going to go through the amendments. The distinguished Senator from Illinois has done that. The American public is entitled to some facts.

We held a hearing 3 weeks ago today in New Orleans. The distinguished Presiding Officer was at that hearing. Here is what we know: Out of $1.6 billion for debris removal, we paid three times too much. We paid the Corps on 30 million cubic yards $5 to administer it; $150 million to the Corps that was contracted through, and then they contracted with a major national corporation which then subcontracted with a regional corporation which then subcontracted.

Here is what we found. The easy work was cherry-picked. The hard work was left to the people of Mississippi and Louisiana and some in Alabama. The local people actually have to do some of the work. One of the ways to achieve recovery in a disaster is to make sure you encourage the employment of locals. What we actually saw was that when the average price per cubic yard was $32--that is what the Federal Government paid--the average price received by those people actually doing the front-end load of work and the dump trucking was $5 a cubic yard. So it was actually six times greater than what the sub sub sub sub--six levels of contractors down, the one that actually did the work--got paid. Understandably, it is a big task. It is understandable that we need somebody. But what we had was a bureaucracy that hired a bureaucracy which then hired five layers of contractors, and each one took something out of the pie and didn't contribute much except the ones actually doing the work.

In our subcommittee we have a poster that says: Accountability and transparency. There is no transparency to this. We have to dig, fight, and almost bite to get the information out of the agencies. These are four very commonsense amendments that will aid in transparency and accountability in the Federal Government.

The Presiding Officer asked during that hearing: Why couldn't the Corps have hired a contract manager or why couldn't the Corps have been the contract manager and taken some of that profit that was consumed, which was about 60 percent, that didn't actually get to the folks in cleaning up the debris? Why couldn't the Corps have functioned that way? It was such a good hearing that FEMA didn't even stick around to listen to the people from Louisiana talk about their dealings with FEMA. That explains the real problems with FEMA. The contracting officer didn't stay for the hearing to hear the criticisms, factually based criticisms, that were very enlightening.

The second area I will discuss is the Travel Trailer Program. The American people ought to ask: When a trailer costs $16,000 to $17,000, and it costs $50,000 to install, something is wrong. But when you go to look at the $50,000, we see this layering again. We see a layer to the Corps, to a major contractor, to a subcontractor, subcontractor, subcontractor, subcontractor. The American people aren't getting value, No. 1. And, No. 2, the people who deserve to be helped are getting a delay as the process goes through.

I have a couple of pictures to show. This is what we ought to be asking of agencies. We ought to say you ought to be accountable. It ought to be transparent. You ought to be able to find the contractors. As a matter of fact, FEMA doesn't even go down more than one layer in terms of the contracts. That is policy; that is not law. They protect that information so it cannot be available to Members of Congress or to the American public to know what is going on. We ought to be able to see results. We saw that we spent three times as much money to do something over a much longer period of time than what we should have.

We know, for example, the major contracts initially were no bid, of which the Corps took something off of the top as well. There has been no priority setting and no responsiveness, and there has been no spending discipline.

We ought to make sure the moneys that go forward are under the guise of good accounting practices, transparency, and we ought to be able to put in place, as this money is spent, a way for the Congress to hold the agencies accountable on how they spend this money. It is my hope that the leadership, chairman, and ranking member will look at these amendments closely. I think they are very positive in terms of making the needed adjustments.

On homeland security, we had a tremendous number of hearings--I think 24--on FEMA. It relates all the way back up through the Corps and all the way back down. Accountability is sorely lacking. These amendments would correct that.

I thank my friend from Illinois for his insistence and hard work in this area. I yield the floor.

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