WASHINGTON – Senator Susan Collins, Ranking Member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said Tuesday that the findings of an independent government probe require more aggressive review be applied to a Federal Emergency Management Agency plan to build new housing for those displaced by a September 2009 tsunami in American Samoa.
The Inspector General for the Department of Homeland Security examined the FEMA plan, noting several concerns: Oversight of permanent housing is a new responsibility for FEMA and staffers have little construction expertise; the current cost per home is very expensive; oversight of the construction is costly; there are no per-home and total home cost ceilings; and, timelines were unrealistic.
"While I share concerns about the Samoans displaced by last year’s earthquake and tsunami, I encourage the FEMA Administrator to conduct a rigorous review of this proposed plan,” Senator Collins said. “Based on the IG’s findings, the plan appears to have major flaws and lax oversight, which could put taxpayer funding at risk.
“The DHS Inspector General has raised a number of significant problems with the proposed plan, including wildly fluctuating cost estimates, lack of transparency in contracting decisions, undefined management responsibilities and misguided timelines for completion. I look forward to working with FEMA to ensure that the needs of disaster victims are met so that they can move forward and rebuild their lives.”
The tsunami left more than 200 persons eligible for assistance under the Stafford Act–either through financial assistance to homeowners of up to $30,300 or direct assistance, where FEMA would build new housing for each family.
After looking at various options, FEMA officials determined that building permanent homes to replace destroyed structures was the most practical long-term solution to the housing problem. The Stafford Act authorizes FEMA to provide direct assistance to individuals or households in the form of construction of permanent housing in outside the continental United States where no alternative housing resources are available.
However, the cost estimates for building these homes varied widely, ranging from a low estimate by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers ($133,000 to $166,000) to FEMA’s own estimate ($341,000).