FEMA Blamed for Abuse

In Air Conditioner Fund

Emergency officials did not do enough to prevent waste and abuse in a program that provided free air conditioners to thousands of New Yorkers after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the government said yesterday.

The investigation by the Department of Homeland Security inspector general's office was requested last year after the Associated Press reported widespread problems with the $100 million fund to help New York residents breathe clean air after the attacks.

The collapse of the World Trade Center towers produced a huge cloud of asbestos-contaminated dust, prompting the replacement of contaminated air-conditioning units.

Officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, who ran the program with New York state authorities, asserted last year that about 90 percent of applications for air conditioners or air-purifying units came from people who suffered no ill effects from the collapses.

The inspector general found that those claims were "probably overstated," and that the real number was closer to 62 percent. The abuses were due partly to a lack of safeguards in the program and unscrupulous businesses that seized on the opportunity to make money illegally from the government's generosity, the investigation concluded.

When the program's costs ballooned from $15 million to $100 million, a FEMA official's complaint of abuse caused more than 100,000 of the original 229,000 applicants to withdraw voluntarily from the program.

Felons to Get Greater

Access to DNA Tests

Rape victims and felons in prison will have greater access to DNA testing under a five-year, $1 billion program signed into law by President Bush.

The law, worked out in the final days of the congressional session that ended last month, ensures access to post-conviction DNA tests for those serving prison sentences, including prisoners on death row. It provides $775 million in grants over the next five years to clear the backlog of some 350,000 untested DNA samples in rape evidence kits.

It provides an additional $350 million to improve legal representation in death penalty cases.

-- From News Services