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by Caleb Howe

RedState – 10/20/15

 

If there is one thing conservatives know, it’s that government is great at using money efficiently and getting the job done properly, in a timely manner, and for a reasonable price. Right? But even so, let’s just examine an example here.

A few years ago, the base and the beltway goons (and people like Chris Christie) got into it over disaster relief to aid the victims of Hurricane Sandy. Among other things, conservatives argued the aid was bloated with pork. The establishmentarian response was “conservatives want people to linger in water-logged buildings with no power” or something. Surely the word racist appeared somewhere. But then Chris Christie hugged Obama and ultimately, after a bunch of outcry, Congress passed an aid package and everybody moved on to the next thing.

Now, three years after Hurricane Sandy hit, people in affected areas remain ired and mired, Trump has made waves saying there is still a ton of work to be done and George Bush caused 9/11, and – now this is the part that will shock you – a report has come out that shows the amount of waste and inefficiency in the government’s spending on Sandy aid has been its own kind of catastrophe.

Some choice excerpts—your tax dollars have been appropriated, but not spent, with the federal government just holding onto the cash to do… whatever, and to do it pretty badly:

[T]he Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board was authorized by Congress to “develop and use information technology resources and oversight mechanisms to detect and remediate waste, fraud, and abuse” in the awarding and spending of the funds as a part of the Sandy Supplemental. Since the Sandy Supplemental became public law in January of 2013, the RATB has issued six quarterly reports to Congress with the Board’s findings.

In its final report to Congress, the RATB found $26 billion of the $47.9 billion in funding appropriated by the Sandy Supplemental had been awarded as of March 21, 2015, with a total of $15 billion of those funds having been paid out. As shown in Figure 6, the Housing and Urban Development’s Community Development Fund and Department of Transportation’s Public Transit Emergency Relief Program hold the overwhelming majority of unspent funding from the Sandy Supplemental. Of the $15.2 billion designated to the Community Development Fund, only $2.79 billion has been paid out. The Public Transit Emergency Relief Program holds the second largest reserve of unspent funds, with only $0.91 billion of $10.35 billion having been paid out. In fact, of the $36.99 billion in non-FEMA funding designated to government programs in the Sandy Supplemental, only $6.93 billion has been paid out.

Where money has been paid out, you’ll be shocked to know it’s been paid out on “questionable” items, with lots of misspending going on:

Since January 2013 the office of Inspector General has opened 225 investigations and initiated 72 audits across various agencies. From those investigations, the various OIGs identified $226.9 million in questioned costs and recommended $76.7 million be reprogrammed for better use of funds.

[…]

Inefficiencies were found in the use of disaster funds by cities large and small. The Department of Housing and Urban Development OIG completed an audit of the New York City Office of Management and Budget’s administration of the Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery Assistance (CDBG-DR) funds awarded to the city as a result of damages caused by Hurricane Sandy, and found that funds designated for the city went to a subrecipient without adequate objectives or monitoring for its use. As a result, city officials could not assure HUD that the CDBG-DR funds were disbursed for eligible, reasonable, and necessary program expenses in compliance with HUD rules and regulations. Further, the remaining allocation of $40 million would be considered funds put to their intended use only if city officials establish adequate monitoring controls.

A similar review of Minot, North Dakota’s CDBG-DR program determined that the city did not fully comply with federal and local procurement requirements.

The bottom line here: A bunch of your money was appropriated when it didn’t need to be. A lot of your money that was appropriated hasn’t actually been spent, (and should therefore be clawed back and put to better use), and a lot of your money that has been spent has gone to relatively pointless, small-ball stuff. Oh, and there has been a veritable buffet of alphabet soup government agencies purportedly involved in the Sandy response which were ignorant of key information and made bad decisions throughout.

As it turns out, government wasn’t super efficient and wise and benevolent when they asked for and used millions of dollars in the name of “helping.” Whaaaaaat?

By the way, one thing the report highlights that is just typical is how smarter pre-disaster spending to ensure better preparedness would be a much better use of funds. So even if you’re all gung-ho let’s spend limitless federal money all the time, they STILL didn’t manage to do what would have been the smartest thing for the people who live in those areas. Namely, prepare for the worst so they don’t have to deal with the worst.

So big barrels of government money managed by dozens of competing self-interested government bodies failed to do the most good for the most people for the least amount of money? SHUT. UP.

Read the article here.

Read the report here.


by David Paulison

The Times-Picayune – August 31, 2015

 

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast, the communities that bore the brunt of the storm have been taking time to reflect on the aftermath. Just two weeks after the storm made landfall, President George W. Bush tasked me to lead the recovery as acting administrator of FEMA. I witnessed firsthand the destruction that claimed 1,833 lives and caused $108 billion in property damage. That tragic experience, however, offered some important lessons that we now have a chance to act on for the future.

Prior to leading FEMA, I spent 30 years in the fire service, rising to chief of the Miami-Dade Fire and Rescue Department from 1992 to 2001. Throughout my career, I have experienced disasters across the country that have taken lives and destroyed homes. In almost every instance, there was an opportunity to greatly reduce the loss of life and property beforehand.

The most critical lesson is that preparing for the storm is more important than the response that follows. As the nation's first firefighter and founding father Ben Franklin used to say, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Preventative reforms will help save lives, dramatically reduce damage and reduce the cost of recovery to taxpayers.  Unfortunately, our nation has yet to adopt many of the important lessons learned from Hurricane Katrina and more recent major disasters like Hurricane Sandy.

The federal government spends exponentially more on post-disaster relief than on mitigation, and when the government does invest in mitigation it almost only does so after a disaster has occurred. According to a newly released Government Accountability Office (GAO) report on Hurricane Sandy, FEMA spent 14 times more on post-disaster mitigation than it did on pre-disaster measures from 2011-14. The heavy focus on spending after, rather than before a disaster results in an endless cycle of rebuild and repair and a federal system that is prone to waste, duplication and misguided investments. Not enough resources are being allocated for pre-disaster mitigation, especially considering the fact that according to the National Institute of Building Sciences, every $1 spent on prevention saves taxpayers $4 in disaster relief. 

Even more shocking is the fact that after Hurricane Sandy, Congress appropriated almost 75 percent of the $50 billion in off-budget emergency disaster spending to federal agencies other than FEMA, with $36 billion going to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Department of Transportation and other non-FEMA agencies. While FEMA has strict cost versus benefit protocols when it spends taxpayer money, other agencies typically do not. The result is money spent on local projects that have little to do with mitigating the damage of the next storm.  

The GAO concluded, and I agree, that the federal government needs a new national mitigation investment strategy to change the way in which we approach disasters. That is why I am working with the BuildStrong Coalition to advocate for a set of reforms that will refocus our efforts on pre-disaster mitigation. The reforms include a new FEMA-administered resilient construction grant program for states to enact and enforce quality building codes and a set of congressional initiatives designed to incentivize states, builders and individuals to construct more resiliently. One congressional proposal, the Safe Building Code Incentive Act, authored by Miami Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart, would reward states that break the cycle of destruction by adopting and enforcing statewide building codes with more resources to maintain and update their mitigation efforts.  For states that don't adopt statewide building codes, the time has arrived to examine how much federal cost share such a state should receive.

The investment costs of these mitigation programs and others should be paid for by repurposing $1 billion of the $30 billion in non-FEMA funds that have yet to be awarded as community development block grants from Hurricane Sandy. By redirecting $1 billion of existing appropriations and reinvesting them in the new mitigation incentive programs, Congress can save lives and tens of billions of taxpayer dollars.

Let's mark the 10th anniversary of the nation's worst disaster by adopting lessons learned and reforming the U.S. natural disaster spending policy. It's time to put good policy ahead of politics and focus more federal funding on responsible preventative measures.

R. David Paulison was administrator of FEMA from shortly after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 to 2009.

Read the op-ed here.


By Julie Rochman, president and CEO, Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety

Claims Journal – July 8, 2015

 

Even though predicted to be a below-average hurricane season, two tropical storms already have made landfall in the U.S. Of all types of severe weather, hurricanes are the most costly natural disaster in recent decades, representing seven of the ten most expensive catastrophes in terms of insurance claims since 1992. Strong, well-enforced building codes can help drive such losses down and help make coastal communities more resilient.

As the property insurance industry’s building science research arm, the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS) focuses on identifying effective, workable ways to reduce damage from severe weather, like hurricanes, by strengthening building codes and standards, as well as improving building products and installation, construction practices, and repair and replacement techniques.

Building codes today are a patchwork of life safety-focused rules generally established and applied on a state-by-state basis (based on national models) – although too often, this is even a local issue, due to the absence of uniform, minimum statewide standards. To highlight this issue and provide a roadmap for states to improve their code systems, IBHS evaluated residential building codes in the 18 most hurricane-prone states along the Gulf and Atlantic Coasts. The initial IBHS Rating the States report (2012) was updated this April. Each state was assigned a score on a 0-100 point scale, taking into account the areas of code adoption and enforcement, building official training and certification, and licensing requirements for contractors. There is a disturbing variation – and several under-performers – among the states.

The 2012 report has been well-received as a wake-up call, with several states acting to improve their building code systems. The 2015 report finds most states with strong building code systems in place at the time of the original 2012 report remain committed to building safety; they updated their codes to the latest model code editions, or are in the process of doing so and maintained effective enforcement systems. Unfortunately, a number of states took no action to improve their code systems, and a few have weaker systems in place now than in 2012.

Overall, ten states – Alabama, Connecticut, Georgia, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, Rhode Island, South Carolina and Texas – improved their scores from the 2012 report. Six states – Florida, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey and New York – lost points. Two states, Virginia and Delaware, received the same score. Virginia had the highest score of 95, highlighting their exemplary building code system. This report demonstrates that while much improvement has been made, there is still much work needed to ensure strong, uniform building codes become the standard in these high-risk areas.

Strengthening the building codes in hurricane-prone regions would be a significant step toward reducing the property damage and insurance claims that result from these powerful storms. In fact, a study done by IBHS, the University of Florida and the FEMA Mitigation Assessment Team following Hurricane Charley, which struck Florida in 2004, found that modern building codes reduced the severity of insurance losses by 42 percent and the frequency by 60 percent.

Stronger codes in hurricane regions also benefit other parts of our nation. Better construction standards will reduce property damage, which can potentially save billions of dollars in federal disaster response and recovery costs.

Strong, well-enforced statewide building codes are an essential component of community resilience and must be addressed in disaster mitigation strategies. When buildings are stronger and more resilient, everyone wins. Home and business owners are able to recover faster and local jobs, communities, and tax bases are maintained. This is not a matter of whether or not it is the right thing to do. It is. Because every citizen in every state deserves a well-enforced minimum (because that is what codes are) level of property strength in the buildings in which they live and work.

Read the article here.


By R. David Paulison
The Hill


 

The new Congress has a golden opportunity to advance a national disaster strategy that will better protect the American people and save taxpayer dollars. 

With the Senate and the House of Representatives working together, this is the time to address the failed status quo of waiting for storms to hit and then passing massive supplemental appropriations bills. 

Director Craig Fugate has done a tremendous job fostering resiliency and a community-oriented approach to emergency management since he took the reins of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in 2009. However, I’m sure even Director Fugate would admit that there is still much work to be done to build a more resilient country.  

According to FEMA, federal disaster declarations have jumped from a yearly average of 28 under President Reagan to 139 under President Obama. The trend is undeniable and costly for taxpayers.

Office of Management and Budget statistics reveal that the average funding provided for disaster relief from 2001-2011 was $11.5 billion a year. In 2012, the average jumped to almost $13 billion. Since 2011, $137 billion has been spent – with over $60 billion spent on Super Storm Sandy. 

The vast majority of damage is related to recent hurricanes that pounded the eastern seaboard. Hurricanes Sandy and Irene inflicted a devastating toll on numerous states, costing lives, destroying homes and ruining small businesses. 

Pre-storm mitigation efforts such as promoting model-building codes can greatly lessen the damage of hurricanes, but there are only eleven states nationwide that have adequate building codes and enforcement mechanisms in place. Many of the states without proper building codes are directly in harm's way when it comes to hurricanes and other natural disasters. Without greater adoption of strong building codes, the amount of federal spending committed to disaster cleanup and relief will continue to spiral upward. 

Preparedness and pre-storm mitigation can save lives and taxpayer dollars. According to a study conducted by FEMA, for every dollar invested in pre-storm mitigation, the nation reaps four dollars of economic benefits. Furthermore, in a landmark study conducted by the Louisiana State University Hurricane Center, researchers found that strong building codes, had they been in widespread use throughout the Gulf Region, would have reduced wind damage from Katrina by 80 percent, saving eight billion dollars. 

I know first-hand from my time as director of FEMA that the intentions of those on the front lines after a disaster are good. But I also believe that we need to step back and take a hard look at our underlying policies. While many independent groups and the General Accountability Office have examined the different causes behind the rise in disaster relief spending, there has never been a comprehensive congressionally mandated study to analyze what the precise costs are, how much federal spending has been wasted on efforts that aren’t vital or appropriate responses to natural disasters, and how best to control disaster relief expenditures going forward. 

The new Congress should pass legislation in short order to commission a Blue Ribbon Panel to explore why disaster declarations are at an all-time high, and what is really behind the dramatic increase in disaster spending. Are the increases in spending related to population increases, changes in spending, poor construction of our homes or mistakes in federal policy? Where have federal dollars dedicated to disaster relief gone? Do sufficient accountability measures exist for FEMA programs, as well as for related programs administered by the Departments of Housing and Transportation, to ensure tax dollars aren’t being wasted? 

Additionally, the panel could explore what changes in policy can be made to enhance building resiliency, strengthen building codes, and reduce disaster costs. The panel could also make recommendations concerning the proper role of federal, state, and local governments in solving this problem. Specific attention should be given to the roles of FEMA, HUD and DOT to minimize duplication of effort and waste. Community Development Block Grants are sometimes prone to abuse. These grants should be closely examined by policymakers before more resources are thrown at the problem. Finally, policymakers should assess the current status of the nation’s housing stock, and consider what federal, state and local incentives should be utilized to encourage the implementation of model building codes. 

There are several lawmakers in Congress who have dedicated themselves to addressing this serious national problem. Many have properly focused on incentivizing states, communities, builders and individuals to construct more resilient homes and buildings. The BuildStrong Coalition has endorsed many of these efforts, including the Safe Building Code Incentive Act, which would provide states with additional disaster relief in exchange for adopting strong building codes. Other bills supported by the coalition would provide tax credits and other incentives for homeowners to retrofit their homes with strong building codes and take other mitigation actions. 

Congress should authorize the above-mentioned Blue Ribbon Commission and use the findings to put in place a comprehensive national disaster strategy that aims to save lives and ultimately reduce taxpayer exposure to natural disasters. 

Paulison was director of FEMA from 2005 to 2009.


By Rep. Lou Barletta


In the late summer of 2011, Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee wreaked havoc on swaths across the eastern United States, including in my home state of Pennsylvania. Lives were lost, families were broken, and businesses and homes were destroyed or damaged. To say the very least, natural disasters of these kind are extremely disruptive to people and the economy, and impose massive cleanup and rebuilding costs on taxpayers.

Over the last 30 years, it is estimated that similar events have racked up more than $1 trillion in damages and costs. Because of the strength and fury of such storms, there will always be chaos to address in their aftermaths, but what if there were actions we could take now that would reduce these consequences in the future? Fortunately, there are such steps, and we know them by the term “mitigation.”

There are a variety of ways to mitigate future damage, such as elevating homes out of floodways or removing debris from waterways to make drainage easier. Building owners might install storm shutters, roof storm clips, or tie-downs to help structures withstand high winds and prevent devastating losses and costs. We know mitigation efforts like building codes, flood-proofing and earthquake design standards can relieve or, in some cases, eliminate the human and financial impact of disasters on the nation.

As the chairman of the Economic Development, Public Buildings, and Emergency Management subcommittee of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, I am working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to explore ways Congress can help encourage mitigation practices that will save lives and taxpayer money from disasters.

Here in Congress, several members have offered approaches to facilitate mitigation and encourage the building of stronger and more disaster-resistant communities. These proposals include incentives for state and local governments to improve their building codes, which can reduce building damage and protect people from harm during a catastrophe. Other bills provide tax incentives to individual homebuilders or homeowners if they choose strong building materials and construction methods. 

Another proposal would allow individuals to set aside up to $5,000 annually in tax-free accounts for disaster mitigation expenses.

While all of these measures need to be evaluated closely and evaluated for their impacts on taxpayers, they do share a common characteristic: they are incentives and not mandates.

Click here to read more »


By Seanna Adcox

The insurance industry hopes a 21,000-square-foot lab in rural South Carolina can help revolutionize the way homes are built and stem the cost of Mother Nature's disasters.

Officials at the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety say the wake of destruction left by hurricanes, wildfires and other natural disasters can be greatly reduced with construction choices that cost little extra upfront. They hope research at the facility persuades people to make those choices, ultimately saving lives and money.

In 2012, there were 11 billion-dollar-plus disasters nationwide, according to the National Climatic Data Center. They caused more than $110 billion total in damages and 377 deaths — for the second-costliest year on record, with Sandy alone accounting for $65 billion.

The price tags are not sustainable, yet people continue to build and rebuild without the next disaster in mind, IBHS president Julie Rochman said.

"We cannot continue this cycle of destruction. We've got to learn from the loss of life and the huge amounts of federal spending and private sector spending," she said. "We can break these cycles. We know what to do. It's simply a matter of will to do so."

Since the facility opened in fall 2010, it has simulated hurricane winds, hail storms and wildfire ember showers to scientifically test the effects of different construction and landscaping methods on full-size model homes — and provide the public a visible comparison. The six-story-tall test chamber can generate winds of up to 130 mph and rainfall equal to 8 inches per hour.

Officials hope the Chester County facility drives market changes in construction practices, much as the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety did for vehicles.

On Nov. 12, four Republican congressmen visiting the facility watched a wildfire demonstration and participated in a round-table discussion with industry and fire safety leaders on how to turn the institute's research into common practice.

"These natural disasters seem to be getting bigger. The damage certainly is much larger," said Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa., chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, which handles disaster management. "Whether it's Sandy or Katrina, it's important that we're being smarter about how we're building things and the mitigation costs. What we can learn from this type of facility is extremely important."

Some of the lessons cost little to no money. U.S. Rep. Mick Mulvaney, whose district includes the facility, said the wildfire demonstration emphasized the need to clean his gutters of pine straw.

Research has led to three additions in the 2015 International Residential Code — the first update since its opening — all relating to sealing roofs to keep water out, whether from a thunderstorm or a hurricane. The recommendations add less than $500 to a reroofing job, Rochman said.

Click here to read more »


By Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL) and Albio Sires (D-NJ)

As we mark the one-year anniversary of Superstorm Sandy, we are reminded of the timeless words of America’s most famous fireman, Ben Franklin. His advice that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” rings true today, as we look back at the devastation wrought by Sandy and seek solutions to make America more resilient to natural disasters.

 

Fire fighters, emergency management experts, and insurers all agree: strong building codes provide our best defense against hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, wildfires, and other natural disasters. After consulting with the professionals who work on the frontlines to keep our communities safe, we introduced bipartisan legislation to encourage more states to adopt and enforce strong building codes as a preventative measure.

 

Our legislation, the Safe Building Code Incentive Act, would provide qualifying states that enforce strong building codes which adhere to the International Code Council model standards with an additional four percent of post-disaster grants from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. This legislation would provide significant benefits to homeowners, small businesses, and taxpayers.

 

Scientific research proves that when homes and office buildings are constructed by utilizing the best practices of modern building science, it is simply harder for Mother Nature to knock them down. We are confident that the Safe Building Code Incentive Act will help save lives, protect property, and ultimately reduce taxpayer exposure to natural disasters.

Click here to read more »


The BuildStrong Coalition released today a comprehensive report on the National Thought Leaders Forum it co-hosted with the Congressional Fire Services Institute on June 8th. The event focused on the vital role that model building codes can play in protecting property, saving lives and reducing taxpayer exposure to natural disasters.

To read the report, click here.


By Arthur Postal

WASHINGTON—Legislation has been introduced in both the House and Senate aimed at providing additional incentives for states to adopt and enforce uniform building codes.

The bill was introduced as one component of a comprehensive push by the insurance industry.

As part of the effort, the industry has created the BuildStrong Coalition in order to create momentum for Congress to pass such legislation, which has repeatedly been introduced in Congress.

Members include national business and consumer organizations, insurance companies, firefighters, emergency managers, and building professionals dedicated to promoting stronger building codes. Its members include the Congressional Fire Services Institute and National Fire Protection Association.

The effort included a hearing before a Senate subcommittee May 8 on the importance of uniform building standards and a forum held May 9 in conjunction with the 25th Annual National Fire and Emergency Services Dinner.

The legislation is the Safe Building Code Incentive Act. The bills, S 905 in the Senate and HR 1878, are chiefly sponsored by Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., and Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla, respectively. Click here to read more »


By Mark Hofmann

 

WASHINGTON — Legislation that would encourage states to adopt and enforce building codes was introduced in the House of Representatives and Senate on Wednesday.

The Safe Building Code Incentive Act of 2013 — H.R. 1878 — would allow states that adopt and enforce model building codes that meet minimum life-safety standards to receive an additional 4% on post-disaster funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Qualifying codes would have to be consistent with the most recent version of a nationally recognized model building code, have been adopted by the state within six years of the most recent version of the model code, and use the model code as a minimum standard.

“Nature has the stick, let’s give the carrot,” said the measure’s chief House sponsor, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., during a conference in Washington on Thursday.

Speaking at the inaugural building codes opinion leader forum sponsored by the BuildStrong Coalition and the Congressional Fire Services Institute, Rep. Diaz-Balert said stronger building codes save lives and money.

Previous versions of the measure failed to pass both chambers of Congress, but Rep. Diaz-Balart said he thinks “momentum is on our side” because citizens recognize the costs of the status quo.

Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., introduced a companion bill — S. 905 — in the Senate. Click here to read more »