Front Desk

Earth to FEMA

The Federal Emergency Management Agency, that whipping boy of last fall's hurricane season, is extending hotel subsidies to victims of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita until Feb. 13, The Washington Post reports. The extension is at least the fourth time the government has postponed efforts to end the hotel program, which has cost the feds $400 million-plus since Katrina struck Aug. 29.

That might be good news for hoteliers, but it's a disturbing comment on FEMA. God forbid I slam a federal agency, but FEMA is operating under a cloud of ignorance, not to mention incompetence. The Post says that only under pressure from a lawsuit did FEMA acknowledge it doesn't know which Katrina victims are living in more than 25,000 hotel rooms nationwide.

In negotiations with lawyers seeking to extend the deadline, FEMA said such information is not available in its databases, partially because it took over the hotel subsidy program from the American Red Cross—which means that until FEMA gets new computers, hoteliers will be able to take advantage of subsidies that FEMA can't track. The possibilities of corruption are endless and disheartening.

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