Is America learning from its disasters how to hold people together in community, how to prevent and manage conflict? It is not clear that anything will be learned from the current direction of leadership. The level of corruption from the Republican administration has been astonishing, and can only guarantee that people will be at each other’s throats. This is not how to prevent conflict and build community. Here is this note of concern on FEMA’s response to Ike:

With hurricanes Gustav and Ike slamming ashore, focus again turns to FEMA’s performance, and we continue to be less than inspired. After Gustav, the agency admitted that it underestimated how much food and water and other goods that Louisiana would need. It promised the people of Houston ice and water in the immediate aftermath of Ike. It turns out that the Salvation Army had hot meals going and a local radio station had ice and water delivered a day before FEMA’s trucks finally rolled in.

And now we see that the list of FEMA foul-ups in Katrina is still growing with recent news that the government wasted millions of dollars on four no-bid contracts. That includes paying $20 million for a camp for evacuees that was never inspected and turned out to be unusable.

This latest story of government waste comes, not from the media, but from the Homeland Security Department’s office of inspector general (IG). The overall tally of money wasted is said to be at least $1 billion.

The IG reviewed temporary housing contracts awarded without competition to Shaw Group Inc., Bechtel Group Inc., CH2M Hill Companies Ltd. and Fluor Corp. in the days immediately before and after Katrina.

The review found that FEMA wasted at least $45.9 million on the four contracts that at first were worth $400 million, but that were increased twice by FEMA, without competition.

By contrast, Senator Obama had this to recommend over two years ago:

So, myself and Tom Coburn (Republican from Oklahoma) introduced a very simple amendment in the Emergency Defense Supplemental. It essentially said that if there is going to be a contract of more than half a million dollars, it has to be competitively bid. The amendment passed 98 to 0; the entire Senate was unanimous. But, as some of you may not be aware, the way Washington works is a bill that passes in the Senate and a bill that passes in the House has to be reconciled in what is called a conference committee because there are going to be differences, potentially, between what’s in the House version and the Senate version. Those have to be worked out in a conference of House members and Senate members. I wasn’t on the conference committee; neither was Tom Coburn. When the conference committee report finally came out, the bill that would actually be voted on and signed into law, our little provision had been struck – it wasn’t in there.

Since that time we got that news there’s at least 1.4 billion dollars of taxpayer money that could have gone to helping the people on the coast that instead has been siphoned off on a series of fraudulent claims.

We need leadership in this country to not only manage global conflicts but also to manage our relations in this country in a way that builds community not selfish corruption. The biggest lie about selfish approaches to government spending is that it is more efficient and will make us all richer. This is untrue. What makes everyone wealthier, what makes survival more likely, in the history of human community is actual cooperation, sharing and altruism. We need government leaders who understand that.

Hurricane Ike
Hurricane Ike
© Marc Gopin