Just as Hurricane Irene slammed into the East Coast of the United States, presidential candidate Ron Paul decided to do some slamming of his own. Taking on the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Texas Congressman pointed out it was more of a hindrance than help during times of emergency, not to mention one of the worst contributors to deficit spending.
“I live on the Gulf Coast. We put up with hurricanes all the time,” Paul told CNN Friday from New Hampshire. “There’s no magic about FEMA. More and more people are starting to recognize that.”
FEMA is the government agency that was designed to assist in aiding local and state authorities that have been overwhelmed in times of disastrous or emergency events.
Paul has been a vocal critic of FEMA for years.
“FEMA is not a good friend of most people in Texas,” Paul told CNN. “All they do is come in and tell you what to do and can’t do. You can’t get in your houses. And they hinder the local people, and they hinder volunteers from going in.”
Back in 2008, when Hurricane Ike came ashore in Galveston, Paul voted against a bill that appropriated billions in aid to the devastated East Texas area, a region that incorporates his own congressional district. Regardless, FEMA has been able to get $3 billion to the area since the disaster.
Paul, a fiscal conservative with libertarian views, holds that the less the federal government interferes locally, the better. The lawmaker says that FEMA is a “great contributor to deficit financing” (much of funds that move through FEMA are products of “emergency” spending, which is considered outside of the regular fiscal budget but must be included in overall deficit accounting, not to mention adding to the national debt) and maintains that there is nothing that FEMA has done that could not be done as well or more efficiently (Paul opts for the latter) by local and state authorities familiar with the area and the particular disaster being addressed.
But the Republican presidential candidate isn’t the only critic of the agency. FEMA came under intense scrutiny and endured harsh criticism since becoming part of the Department of Homeland Security in 2003.
Prior to Hurricane Katrina, FEMA had come under fire for its dealings in Florida after the 2004 hurricane season saw four separate hurricanes hit the southern end of the peninsula. A Senate committee and the director of Homeland Security found that FEMA had inappropriately established Miami-Dade County as a disaster area and doled out millions, often without verification. The South Florida Sun-Sentinel ran a story that revealed that FEMA had paid for 203 funerals that were not hurricane related — tens of which were for people who weren’t even in Florida when they died.
Arkansas Sen. Mark Pryor criticized the agency’s response efforts to the 2007 tornadoes that swept through Dumas, Ark.
But the harshest criticism of FEMA came from its handling of the Hurricane Katrina aftermath. Not only was the response overly slow and ineffective, the disaster relief effort was highlighted throughout by the agency’s mismanagement and wasteful spending. It would cost the director at the time, Scott Brown, his job.
In a segment broadcast in February 2009, then-current and retired FEMA employees spoke with CBS’ “60 Minutes,” exposing the agency as inefficient and inadequately prepared for future disasters. Millions of dollars spent in temporary trailer housing went to waste because of improper maintenance or being stored in lots and never utilized. A special investigation by CNN in 2008 revealed that $85 million had been spent for household goods for Katrina victims, but those same goods sat in warehouses for two years before being given away to people in 16 other states.
Ron Paul currently places third in national presidential preference polling among 2012 GOP candidates.