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Our View: FEMA disaster, royalty relief need attention

The Union Editorial Board

Is it any wonder that we’re losing confidence in our federal government?

The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s initial response to Katrina was a well-documented disaster. Now, we’re learning that the agency has squandered millions of dollars in hurricane aid while thousands of people remain homeless.

At this moment, approximately 11,000 manufactured homes purchased by FEMA with our tax dollars are sinking into the mud in an Arkansas field. According to several published reports, FEMA says it can’t put these homes on flood plains. Since many of those who lost their homes lived on a flood plain, one has to ask why did FEMA buy the homes in the first place?

In the meantime, millions of dollars were given to people who were not victims of Katrina, according to preliminary reports prepared by the Homeland Security Department inspector general and the Government Accountability Office.

These instances of fraud and incompetence came after Congress hastily approved $62 billion in aid for Katrina victims and to jumpstart the process of rebuilding New Orleans and ravaged Gulf Coast states. The money, it appears, has slipped through the fumbling fingers of Washington bureaucrats as fast as those waters rushed through the damaged levees of New Orleans.

At the same time the federal government is making a mess of things in New Orleans, we’re learning that oil companies may be exempt from paying an estimated $7 to $9.5 billion in royalties to the federal government between now and 2011.

A law passed in 1995 to help a struggling oil industry has not been modified or eliminated even as oil companies report record earnings.

And, of course, this is all happening while Congress cuts money for Medicare, food stamps and student-aid programs.

We can only hope that our elected representatives, including Rep. John Doolittle, will at least correct one of these wrongs and stand up to the powerful energy lobbyists and pass legislation that ends the royalty relief for energy companies.

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