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Homeland Security Heist

by Geraldo Rivera | Mar 09, 2007

Given the historic reluctance among conservatives to expand the size of the federal government, one of the most ironic developments since 9/11 is how that catastrophe created the opening for perhaps the most egregious example of government waste, fraud and abuse ever, also know as the Department of Homeland Security.

With politicians from both sides of the aisle waving the flag, and perhaps hiding behind it, the bureaucrats, lobbyists and contractors sucking on the federal breast have stolen or wasted billions according to the General Accounting Office, making the Department of Homeland Security sometimes seem like one huge, get-rich quick scheme.

Created by the biggest government reorganization in fifty years, and now sporting a budget approaching 40 billion dollars and almost 200,000 employees, the scandals infecting DHS range from corruption among its airport screeners to widespread misuse of its credit cards to no bid, sweetheart contracts.

Charged with protecting the country from terrorism and responding to natural disasters, nothing shined a harsher spotlight on DHS than the performance of its FEMA agency before, during, and after Hurricane Katrina. Without reliving the mistakes made in New Orleans, let's examine just one uncontested example of what is wrong with this bloated, erratic pork barrel.

A year and a half after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita ravaged communities all up and down the Gulf Coast, FEMA is currently auctioning off thousands of surplus trailers it purchased in a panic to house displaced storm victims. Bought at a cost of 2.7 billion dollars, mostly through those so-called emergency, no-bid contracts, FEMA now has at least 60,000 trailers in storage nationwide.

So far, the used ones are going for less than half what they cost, about 40 cents on the dollar. FEMA says Congress is preventing it from selling the new ones, out of a fear they'd flood the market and hurt retail dealerships. But nobody's shopping at dealers right now because who'd pay full retail for a trailer you can get wholesale at a government auction?

Hope, Arkansas has the largest stockpile of unused FEMA trailers, about 20,000 of them, stored at a monthly rent of about $25,000.  As fate would have it, in three nearby Arkansas counties, recent tornados have left dozens of families homeless, like Kevin Hill's. "I'm homeless, virtually homeless," he explained to a local television reporter. "My house look like you could put a bomb in it.  It just exploded.  I mean everything we have, everything we own it just gone."

But because Kevin's county has not officially been declared a federal disaster area, FEMA will not make the surplus trailers available to him or other nearby, needy residents. So they sit there in plain sight, unused and rotting away.

Reporter, Jennifer Rakers: "Kevin what's your message to the federal government?"

Kevin: "That they need to get off their butt and do something."

If was a private business, the boss would be fired. 

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