Government sucks. It sucks billions of taxpayer dollars down the drain in the name of preventing disasters. It sucks billions more cleaning those disasters up when prevention fails. It sucks millions on top of the billions for investigations and recriminations. And then the cycle begins anew.
The Bush administration, like every administration since Jimmy Carter created the Federal Emergency Management Agency in 1979, has failed mightily to break the natural disaster-federal disaster cycle. Next to the systemic breakdown on border security and immigration enforcement, the Hurricane Katrina boondoggle stands as the Republicans’ most disgraceful domestic failure. After years of hawking five-pound fiscal conservative blueprints for downsizing government bureaucracy and reforming federal spending, the GOP blew a monumental opportunity to show liberals how to end disaster socialism.
Federal investigators now estimate the total for Hurricane Katrina waste could exceed $2 billion next year. Some $1 billion in aid has already been squandered on everything from unused trailers to empty cruise ship cabins, junkets, and disaster aid debit cards that covered strip club and champagne expenses. Investigators reportedly will release the first of several audits examining more than $12 billion in Katrina contracts next month.
Adding to this already nauseating debacle: grandstanding Democrats. According to the Associated Press, when the Dems take over in January, "at least seven committees plan hearings or other oversight — from housing to disaster loans — on how the $88 billion approved for Katrina relief is being spent." Among those chairing oversight panels: Sen. Robert "They call me ‘The Pork King,’ they don’t know how much I enjoy it" Byrd, D-W.Va. When they hold their windy hearings and press conferences decrying wastefraudandabuse, they’ll bray about countless hurricane contractors with GOP ties. They’ll turn over the microphone to corporate shakedown hypocrites such as Jesse Jackson to moan about favoritism in government contracting. And they’ll assail the Republican culture of corruption while looking the other way at Katrina’s Democrat profiteers.
You will hear a lot about the Shaw Group, for example, which snapped up major disaster relief and reconstruction contracts in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Mainstream media outlets and Democrat mau-mauers have zeroed in on Shaw’s "ties to the Bush White House" and the multibillion-dollar conglomerate’s status as a "major corporate client of Joe Allbaugh, President Bush’s former campaign manager and a former head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency."
What Nancy Pelosi and company will not mention, though, is that the Shaw Group was founded by major Louisiana Democrat player Jim Bernhard — a former chairman of the Louisiana Democrat Party who worked tirelessly for Democrat Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco’s runoff campaign and served as co-chair of her transition team. Bernhard was palsy-walsy with Blanco, whom he has lent/offered the Shaw Group’s corporate jets to on numerous occasions. Another Shaw executive was Blanco’s campaign manager.
Democrats also plan to make hay of no-bid trailer contract awards that have benefited Republican-leaning businesses, including a joint venture involving Del-Jen Inc., a subsidiary of Fluor, which has reportedly donated more than $930,000 to mostly GOP candidates since 2000.
But what will the anti-cronyism Democrats say about Bourget’s of the South — which, according to the New Orleans Times-Picayune, "has become the biggest Louisiana supplier of trailers to FEMA by far, collecting nearly $120 million from no-bid federal contracts?" The company had no license to sell trailers nor any experience in the industry when it secured a $6.4 million deal after Katrina hit.
It did, however, have connections. The men who own Bourget’s — brothers Glen and Gary Smith — are sons of Henry Smith, the treasurer of the executive committee of the Louisiana Democratic Party. The Times-Picayune notes further: "Gary’s son and Glen’s nephew, Gary Smith Jr., is the Democratic state representative from Norco who sits on the House Special Committee on Disaster Planning, Crisis Management, Recovery and Long-Term Revitalization." Heckuva job, Smithies!
Katrina cronyism comes in equally vibrant shades of red and blue. Such are the rotten fruits of bipartisanship in Washington.