Bureaucracy: Changes needed for overdue disaster relief

In the “here we go again” category, the bureaucrats in Charleston continue to prove to the federal government that they simply cannot be trusted with large sums of money. One would think, after having been placed on the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s “slow spender” list for much of 2018 for its failure to properly spend Community Development Block Grant program funding for disaster recovery, the state Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety/Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management would have made the necessary changes to avoid such an embarrassment. Simply wanting to do the right thing to help those in need does not appear to be a motivator for these folks.

But Adjutant General James Hoyer, the man Gov. Jim Justice brought in to clean up the mess that had been made of the state’s flood recovery efforts, and Homeland Security Director Michael Todorovich must have a bigger job on their hands than the governor let on. West Virginia is back on the “slow spender” list for “spending less than 10 percent of monthly pace required to fully use the grant by target closeout.” That would be the $149 million from HUD for recovery from floods that tore through parts of our state nearly THREE years ago.

Meanwhile, West Virginia’s Auditor’s Public Integrity and Fraud Unit says there is still a lot of work to do in correcting the systemic incompetence that has caught the feds’ notice. The unit’s report put it gently:

“During the course of our investigation, we continually encountered a general sentiment from local governmental officials of not knowing what to do. Indeed, from a State perspective, the handling of a disaster (both financially and practically) needs to become a priority initiative going forward.”

But two important recommendations were made.

First, “The West Virginia Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety/DHSEM must evaluate the manner in which FEMA monies are received and projects closed out to ensure timely payments. DMAPS must also review and consider instituting new and better oversight of sub-recipient counties and municipalities that receive FEMA monies.”

And second, “Instead of forcing sub-recipient to hire outside consultants, the State of West Virginia (by and through multiple agencies) should establish a guidebook and mandate annual training for counties and municipalities relating to the management of public monies in the aftermath of an emergency.”

Mind-bogglingly, there is nothing so simple in place as guidance from the state for managing the money handed to local governments. Hoyer has suggested that may have led to fraud in at least one municipality.

It is no wonder the federal government has no sense of urgency in releasing another almost $106.5 million for disaster relief.

Justice, Todorovich and Hoyer had better get a grip on this situation — and not for the sake of our reputation in Washington. Too many West Virginia families continue to struggle while King Bureaucracy feeds its desire to serve only itself.

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