Thursday, September 29, 2005

Battered Citizen Syndrome

Please stop acting surprised. You piss and huff over the government's "inadequate" response in the Gulf region and insist that the feds jump in, take charge, and spend, spend, spend -- but, now you object to the actual implementation. What did you expect?? The NY Times is reporting:

More than 80 percent of the $1.5 billion in contracts signed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency alone were awarded without bidding or with limited competition, government records show, provoking concerns among auditors and government officials about the potential for favoritism or abuse...

...Some industry and government officials questioned the costs of the debris-removal contracts, saying the Army Corps of Engineers had allowed a rate that was too high. And Congressional investigators are looking into the $568 million awarded to AshBritt, a Pompano Beach, Fla., company that was a client of the former lobbying firm of Gov. Haley Barbour of Mississippi...

...The contracts also show considerable price disparities: travel trailers costing $15,000 to $23,000, housing inspection services that documents suggest could cost $15 to $81 per home, and ferries and ships being used for temporary housing that cost $13 million to $70 million for six months...

...Representative Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, the ranking Democrat on the House Homeland Security Committee, complained that FEMA and other federal agencies were delivering too much of the work to giant corporations with political connections, instead of local companies or minority-owned businesses...

"...There is just more of the good-old-boy system, taking care of its political allies," Mr. Thompson said. "FEMA and the others have put out these contracts in such a haphazard manner, I don't know how they can come up with anything that is accountable to the taxpayers."

So, the administration is granting contracts to their buddies and the contractors are inflating their fees? Well, noooooooo kidding. Is this really news? Do you actually expect FEMA and the feds to emulate the private entities that you deem wholly "incapable" of properly handling situations of this magnitude? Forgive me for gloating, but you get what you ask for. Unfortunately, government exists in an accountability-vacuum, immune from oversight, the bottom line, and the invisible hand of the market that mandates innovation, performance and efficiency. These miracle-workers you so eagerly seek are just power hungry, favor doling bureaucrats, who excel at little more than throwing other people's money around like Henry Hill in Goodfellas. Take a long look - do yourself a favor and cleanse thy soul.
It occurs to me that statists are alot like a chronically battered woman who naively insists that she will stand by her scum of man because, "oh - one day he will change - he can be so good - he just needs the right guidance, perhaps some counseling..." It's called denial. Face it. Some things will never change, such as human nature and the slightly anti-social quirks of a Raider fan. A is A - government is what it is, and irregardless of your hopes, dreams, and misguided campaign finance laws, the same kinds of people will always seek political power. So, I will ask once more, "why do we want to give them power???"
And just to close on an up note, there's this:
As of last week, the federal government was spending more than $263 million a day on the recovery effort.
Update: 5:40 pm 9-29-05: Anne Applebaum writes in WaPo that the primary vehicle of legislative corruption today is in the form of "infrastructure appropriations":

Exhibit A is the Louisiana congressional delegation's new request for $250 billion in hurricane reconstruction funds. As a Post editorial pointed out yesterday, this money -- more than $50,000 per Louisiana resident -- would come on top of the $62.3 billion Congress has already appropriated, on top of the charitable donations, on top of the insurance payouts. Among other things, the proposal demands $40 billion of new Army Corps of Engineers spending, 16 times more than the Corps says it needs to protect New Orleans from a Category 5 hurricane. Despite the fact that previous Corps projects drained Louisiana's coastal wetlands, thereby destroying what could have been a natural buffer against at least some of the Rita and Katrina storm surges, the proposal calls for a suspension of environmental reviews. Despite the fact that Louisiana spent hundreds of millions of dollars on water projects that turned out to be unnecessary, or even damaging, the proposal makes it possible to suspend cost-benefit analyses.

In its scale and sheer disregard for common sense, the Louisiana proposal breaks new ground. But I don't want to single out Louisiana: After all, the state's representatives are acting logically, even if they aren't spending logically. They are playing by the rules of the only system for distributing federal funds that there is, and that system allocates money not according to the dictates of logic, but to the demands of politics and patronage.

Nor does this logic apply only to obvious boondoggles such as federal transportation spending, the last $286 billion tranche of which funded Virginia horse trails, Vermont snowmobile trails, a couple of "bridges to nowhere" in rural Alaska and decorative trees for a California freeway named after Ronald Reagan (a president who once vetoed a transportation bill because it contained too much pork). On the contrary, this logic applies even to things we supposedly consider important, such as homeland security. Because neither the administration nor Congress is prepared to do an honest risk assessment, and because no one dares say that there are states at almost no risk of terrorist attack, a good chunk of homeland security funding is distributed according to formulas that give minimum amounts to every state. The inevitable result: In 2004 the residents of Wyoming received, per capita, seven times more money for first responders than the residents of New York City.