US: Disaster after the disaster: A maze of 30 federal entities complicate recovery after tragedy, report finds

The 49ers are fawning over Trey Lance's recovery process

  The 49ers are fawning over Trey Lance's recovery process The optimism surrounding quarterback Trey Lance’s recovery from the season-ending ankle injury he suffered in September has been picking up recently. It's also getting kind of weird. It was known at the time Lance fractured his ankle against the Seattle Seahawks in Week 2 that he would be done for the year; the goal would be for him to heal and prepare for 2023. That may very well still be the case, but the second-year QB has received some very, um, effusive praise for his work during his recovery. General manager John Lynch called Lance “a man possessed” when speaking to NBC Sports’ 49ers Talk with Matt Maiocco about Lance's recovery process.

Public officials across the country sometimes call the recovery from a federally declared major disaster the “disaster after the disaster.” Navigating the maze of federal programs that offer assistance and funding can be complicated, frustrating and prolonged.

Meanwhile, disasters occur more often than they used to and that’s expected to increase as climate change causes more extreme and more frequent weather events. Since 2018, disasters have been declared in every state, the five major territories and the District of Columbia.

A FEMA truck is shown as Department of Homeland Security personnel deliver supplies to Santa Ana community residents in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in Guayama, Puerto Rico. © Carlos Giusti, AP A FEMA truck is shown as Department of Homeland Security personnel deliver supplies to Santa Ana community residents in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in Guayama, Puerto Rico.

A new report out this week from the Government Accounting Office recognizes all this and suggests some course corrections. But experts say trying to simplify the complex mix of agencies and reporting requirements won’t be easy.

The Book Report: Washington Post critic Ron Charles (November 13)

  The Book Report: Washington Post critic Ron Charles (November 13) Recommendations from our book reviewer of new fiction and non-fiction titles for the fall, including works by Barbara Kingsolver and Booker Prize-winner Shehan Karunatilaka.As the cold weather moves in and the holidays approach, you may be looking for good books to curl up with, or to give away to family and friends.

Start the day smarter. Get all the news you need in your inbox each morning.

More than 30 federal entities play some role in disaster recovery, helping state, local and tribal governments to rebuild and redevelop. Functioning under a hodgepodge of rules, regulations and policies, they’ve doled out $593 billion of assistance since 2005.

They continue to work on wrapping up the final paperwork on disasters dating back to 2004.

How does climate change affect you?: Subscribe to the weekly Climate Point newsletter

The GAO talked with officials in five states and 14 local governments about their recovery from nine major disasters, including hurricanes Sandy, Harvey, Florence and Maria, the 2018 California wildfires and flooding in West Virginia in 2016. All agreed they had experienced challenges in navigating the maze of federal recovery programs, further complicated by limited data sharing between agencies.

To heal after parade tragedy, the Grannies must march again

  To heal after parade tragedy, the Grannies must march again MILWAUKEE (AP) — The high winds forecasters warned about are blasting down Wisconsin Avenue, but 15 grandmothers lining up in the street are ready to march. They’re dressed for this morning’s parade in wide-brimmed hats held on tight with elastic chin straps. And they’ve subbed out red pom poms for white ones so the dye won’t run in rain that is teasing its return from a leaden November sky. “This is like my calling,” says Kathi Schmeling, a retired human resources assistant, her grin framed by the crimson lipstick that is a signature of the women who call themselves the Milwaukee Dancing Grannies. “This is my happy place.

Such challenges make it harder for communities, especially vulnerable and smaller communities, to successfully navigate the system, the GAO concluded.

This isn't new information to anyone who has worked with the federal government after a disaster.

“I don’t think any of it would surprise, probably anybody who works in this sphere,” said Kirsten McGregor, an economic resilience consultant based in Delaware. “Agency employees come to it with the best intentions and they get frustrated as well.”

Just this week, McGregor talked with a group of University of Pennsylvania students who were incredulous they couldn’t go to a single source to figure out how much money had been spent on disaster recovery in a particular location.

'Too many zeros' in cost: A climate reckoning for US housing

PHOTOS: Climate Activists protest at UNFCCC COP27 climate conference

“They're like, but it should just all be out there,” she said.

A Beloved America's Got Talent Star Has Died

  A Beloved America's Got Talent Star Has Died Roslyn Singleton, the fan-favorite wife of singer-songwriter and America’s Got Talent competitor Ray Singleton, died this week. Ray auditioned for the 16th season by singing a love song dedicated to Roslyn in front of judges Simon Cowell, Heidi Klum, Howie Mandel, and Sofia Vergara. Ray announced in an Instagram post on Wednesday that his wife passed away while sleeping after a long battle with brain cancer.

Federal officials have taken previous steps to address some of the complaints, the GAO said, but challenges remain.

The Obama administration worked to address some of the issues, but the changes “didn’t stick” afterwards, said Craig Fugate, former administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. For example, he mentioned allowing all agencies to share the same historical and environmental reviews. "Why can't we just do one and everybody agrees to it, you know?"

Although not involved in the analysis, officials in Florida cities have vented frustrations over bureaucracy including revolving federal project managers, repeated trips to document damage and paperwork misplaced by state and federal officials.

It can be an “agonizing process,” said Lee Evett, a city administrator in Lake Helen, Florida, population 2,800.

The GAO report lists 11 options for improving disaster response, including developing new ways to communicate about federal recovery programs, models to better coordinate across programs, a single application portal and standardizing, simplifying and consolidating programs. It includes four recommendations for executive action, including efforts to reduce fragmentation between federal programs.

The Thanksgiving Disaster That Most People Haven't Heard About

  The Thanksgiving Disaster That Most People Haven't Heard About Few realize that one of the oldest rivalries in U.S. history is associated with one of the worst accidents in U.S. sporting history. This is the Thanksgiving disaster that most people haven't heard about.The Annual Big Game © BrokenSphere/Wikimedia Commons A banner for the first Big Game between Cal and Stanford in 1892 In 1892, the University of California, Berkeley, and the Stanford University football teams began a tradition that soon became known as The Big Game.

Finally, the GAO recommends Congress establish an independent commission to recommend reforms.

Experts like the concept of offering technical advisors to help communities understand the projects and programs and how they can work together to get things done.

“Vulnerable communities generally don’t have the planning staff to identify good projects, and even if you give them 100% funding, they don’t always have the staff or the track record to do the project management,” Fugate said. “It’s almost like the more vulnerable a community is and the lower resources they have, the higher bar they have to reach, and it’s generally outside of their capabilities to manage.”

Evett agreed. “When you have a very small staff, you have to bring in other people,” he said. “When I was in Pueblo, Colorado, we had five CPAs on staff. We have four people in our (Lake Helen) City Hall.”

A single application process or a pre-application process for disaster assistance could make things easier and/or a more formal program for providing technical assistance would be beneficial, McGregor said. It could help the local governments figure out which source of funding could help them the most.

“It’s very confusing for local governments. You need people who have certain skill sets. In a lot of these vulnerable communities, they just don’t have it,” she said. “Disasters get even more expensive when you have to bring people in and pay them top dollar.”

'Momentous:' US advances largest dam demolition in history

  'Momentous:' US advances largest dam demolition in history PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — U.S. regulators approved a plan Thursday to demolish four dams on a California river and open up hundreds of miles of salmon habitat that would be the largest dam removal and river restoration project in the world when it goes forward. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's unanimous vote on the lower Klamath River dams is the last major regulatory hurdle and the biggest milestone for a $500 million demolition proposal championed by Native American tribes and environmentalists for years. The project would return the lower half of California’s second-largest river to a free-flowing state for the first time in more than a century.

Fugate suggested the Department of Labor could help FEMA hire and train local residents to do project management when disasters arrive, giving the resident new job skills once disaster recovery is over.

NEWSLETTER: Biden touts U.S. climate legislation at COP27

FACT CHECK: False claim that the Navy sunk a FEMA barge

Even while the government says it wants to reduce red tape and provide more money faster, efforts to combat allegations of fraud and abuse have complicated disaster recovery for decades, with intricate rules and procedures put in place to try to prevent it.

FEMA took steps after hurricanes Andrew and Katrina to reduce fraud and waste in its individual assistance program.

In September, the Justice Department charged 47 people with stealing $250 million meant for pandemic relief.

Congress has had polarized dysfunction on reducing red tape, waste and fraud, Fugate said. "They want no red tape and they want full accountability if anything goes wrong."

“They tend to build these very tightly coupled programs to minimize that risk, but that produces more red tape, and Congress has never really been clear or been willing to say they’ll accept more risk," he said. He thinks there’s a “sweet spot” where agencies could increase funding, while reducing overhead and red tape.

Getting reimbursed for debris hauling after a storm has proven particularly frustrating for cities and counties. They’re required to not only hire FEMA-approved contractors but also monitors to observe the debris haulers.

'Cat’s out of the bag': TSA finds cat in traveler's checked luggage, shares X-ray image

  'Cat’s out of the bag': TSA finds cat in traveler's checked luggage, shares X-ray image A cat was found inside a Delta traveler's checked suitcase at John F. Kennedy International Airport, the Transportation Security Administration said. Your browser does not support this video The TSA confirmed its "hiss-toric find" on Twitter Tuesday. In an image shared by the agency, the cat's outline can be seen in an X-ray of the luggage. Another photo shows a tuft of orange fur peaking out of the suitcase's zipper.

Holly Hill, Florida, expects to pay up to $1.4 million for debris hauled away from the city after Hurricane Ian, and another 25% to 30% of that cost for monitors who will help complete the required paperwork.

“We’re spending a lot more money paying for monitors than any debris hauler would have inflated their numbers by,” said Holly Hill City Manager Joe Forte. “We’re avoiding fraud at a very, very expensive cost.”

When Hurricane Irma arrived in 2017, most of the cities in two counties on the east Central Florida coast, Volusia and Flagler, hadn’t received any reimbursement yet for the millions they’d spent in the wake of Hurricane Matthew 11 months earlier.

Fugate said the federal government could adopt a method similar to insurance companies.

“There are ways to take the burden off the applicant and put it back on the government,” he said.

FEMA’s policy to provide proof of actual costs delays reimbursement, Fugate said. If a government wants to rebuild a fire station or school at a higher elevation and the damage was under a certain threshold, FEMA won’t provide any money for that.

If the government functioned more like insurance companies, they could go in, look at the replacement cost and cut the local government a check, he said. Then local governments could take the money and use it toward building a school or fire station in a safer location.

“There’s got to be rules,” Fugate said, “but I think there’s a point at which we’re probably better off going: We will accept more risk and if you cheat, we're gonna give you the justice and they're gonna put you in jail.”

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Disaster after the disaster: A maze of 30 federal entities complicate recovery after tragedy, report finds

Putin's power doesn't exist in a vacuum: Here are 14 of his biggest enablers, from billionaire oligarchs to world leaders .
Putin relies on a vast network of elites he can co-opt or dupe into supporting his corrupt and authoritarian regime waging a brutal war in Ukraine.

See also