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Fixing FEMA: Chertoff focuses on technology

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff (finally) conceded that the agency's response to Katrina failed and many of his proposed fixes center on tech.

 Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff (finally) conceded that the agency's response to Katrina failed and many of his proposed fixes center on tech, the Times reports.

 Mr. Chertoff said steps were under way to improve communications within his department and with other agencies, that the "outdated" computer and technology systems of the Federal Emergency Management Agency will be revamped, and that FEMA will develop "a highly trained nucleus of permanent employees" as the core of its work force in the event of disaster.

Another important step, Mr. Chertoff said, is the installation of "a 21st-century logistics management system" so the authorities can track shipments of supplies and equipment at every step from origin to the people affected by disasters — much as companies or individuals can now follow the progress of a package or letter by computer.

Such programs are of course fine and good and proper but they don't seem to address issues of fraud and incompetence and chicanery, as reported by Congress.

Even as Mr. Chertoff was speaking in Virginia, the Senate Homeland Security Committee was hearing testimony about fraud and inefficiency that hobbled government response to the catastrophe. Moreover, a special panel of House Republicans is expected to harshly criticize, in a report this week, the administration's response to the suffering in New Orleans. Finally, the Justice Department said today that 212 people face fraud, theft and other charges related to federal money distributed in the aftermath of Katrina.

Numerous examples of fraudulent or wasteful spending have been cited in the nearly half-year since the Gulf Coast calamity. Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine and the head of the homeland security panel, said today that most aid money had gone to people truly in need.

"However, some of the money, far too much of the money desperately needed by victims has gone to people who were nowhere near Hurricane Katrina and were in no way harmed by it," she said. The senator said investigators for the Government Accountability Office had uncovered instances in which federal money had been used to pay for "a tattoo, gambling, traffic fines and a diamond ring."