A Flood of Money
In the Gulf, a gold rush for government funds
Skinner acknowledged in an interview that the inspectors are "very apprehensive about what we're seeing." In some cases, he says, contracts were sealed orally with no paper trails. There's reason to be concerned. Earlier this year, the Government Accountability Office said that the DHS's financial operations lacked "adequate internal controls" and were characterized by "unclear accountability."
Which means that Skinner and his team of bean counters are going to have to be unusually vigilant. Every big, sole-source contract let during the past month, he says, will be examined, and from now on, his team of inspectors will monitor every hurricane-related contract. That's a lofty goal, since soon it will also encompass billions in individual assistance grants. Congress has handed Skinner only $15 million in new money to do all this work, but Ervin, the former inspector general at DHS, says much more is needed.
Congress, too, wants a hand in managing the oversight effort. There are at least nine bills pending on Capitol Hill that would remake the organization chart for oversight of Katrina and Rita contracts. The one gaining the most traction proposes naming a chief financial officer for all hurricane-relief operations to sign off on all contracts before they're issued.
For now, though, the spotlight is on Skinner and his inspectors. Congress mandates that inspectors general be appointed "without regard to political affiliation" and "solely on the basis of integrity and demonstrated ability," but a report last year by the Democratic staff of the House Government Reform committee said that 64 percent of the inspectors general appointed by President Bush had past political experience--more than a third of them working in Republican White Houses--and only 18 percent had prior experience conducting audits. Skinner and Matthew Jadacki, the new head of the Hurricane Katrina Oversight Office, both worked as senior officials at FEMA for years, but Skinner says concerns about their previous ties to FEMA are "completely unfounded." So they're off to work, with their pencils and green eyeshades. American taxpayers had better hope they're up to the task.
With Edward T. Pound