October 15, 2005

U.S. government’s expenses questioned

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Among the government's expenditures
for hurricane relief last month was $223,000 for flip-flop
sandals, three golf carts rented for $1,500 a month and playing
cards, The New York Times reported on Saturday.

The newspaper, basing its report on information provided by
the Federal Emergency Management Administration and other
federal agencies, said that most of the government's estimated
$150 billion bill for Hurricanes Katrina and Rita was for
disaster aid checks to thousands of victims and gargantuan
contracts for debris removal and housing.

But hordes of government workers armed with government
credit cards descended upon the region, making a vast number of
smaller purchases and often paying retail or even higher
prices, the Times said.

Among the charges: $66,632.37 for a single sale at a
Wal-Mart store in La Place, La.; $129,568.40 spent in 195 trips
to Home Depot outlets by FEMA workers, with a least one case of
a transaction that appeared to have been split up to avoid a
cap of $250,000 on credit card purchases.

The records also provide no way of knowing whether the
items bought were necessary or even used, the newspaper said.

But purchases such as the EPA's buy of more than $2,000
worth of CamelBak backpack water containers, instead of regular
plastic bottles, raised questions about a federal spending

Other high expenses included a portable shower unit with 24
shower heads, supported by water trucks and a six-member team
to keep it open 24 hours a day, which ended up costing $8,000
to $10,000 a day.

Several Congress members said they would scrutinize
purchases made with government-paid credit cards, the Times

"If something is wrong, it is like locking the barn door
after the horse is stolen," it quoted Sen. Charles Grassley, an
Iowa Republican who is chairman of the Finance Committee as
saying. "But we are still going to pursue it. I want to know
what they bought with the money."