The Department of Homeland Security is sending teams of investigators and auditors to the Gulf Coast to monitor federal money pouring into the region for Hurricane Katrina relief.
In the past two weeks, Congress has authorized $62 billion in hurricane-related spending, loosened procurement regulations and made it easier to sign contracts without competition. Some in Congress think a special inspector general should be appointed to ensure that money isn't mismanaged or wasted.
Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said yesterday that he was "very mindful" of the concerns raised about contracting. "We want to get aid to people who need it quickly, but we also don't want to lose sight of the importance of preserving the integrity of the process and our responsibility as stewards of the public money," he said.
The teams from the department's inspector general's office are funded by a $15 million provision in one of the Katrina supplemental spending packages, said Russ Knocke, a department spokesman. There will be three nine-person teams, each with six auditors and three investigators, in Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi, he said. A three-person team in Baton Rouge, La., will provide auditing tips and review major contracts, he said.
Also yesterday, the Office of Management and Budget advised agencies to tighten control of government credit cards after Congress increased the amount that can be charged to the cards to $250,000 from $2,500 for non-competitive contracts related to Hurricane Katrina relief. Government auditors have said the credit cards are vulnerable to fraud, including cases in which they were used to buy diamond rings and karaoke machines.
Cardholders should ensure that items are purchased at "reasonable" prices, the OMB said. Agencies should also increase the frequency and scope of contract reviews and limit the number of people authorized to use the cards, it said.
"After the immediate crisis has subsided, we will re-evaluate the need for this provision," David H. Safavian, administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy, said in a written statement.
Citing the higher spending limit on credit cards and other concerns, several Democratic members of Congress asked the Government Accountability Office to establish a team of auditors and investigators to monitor Katrina-related contracts.