The White House would like us all to think of Hurricane Katrina as another 9/11 -- a time for Americans to come together and rally around our beleaguered commander in chief -- but it seems to be treating the disaster more like another Iraq. There's the cavalier attitude, the disconnect between the words in Washington and the reality on the ground, the rejection of the warnings of experts, and, of course, Halliburton.
And now, as the Wall Street Journal reports today, the Bush administration is "importing" into the Katrina recovery efforts "many of the contracting practices blamed for spending abuses in Iraq." The Journal says that the first large Katrina-recovery contracts have been awarded without competitive bidding and using "so-called cost-plus provisions that guarantee contractors a certain profit regardless of how much they spend." The problem with such contracts? They encourage waste because they provide no incentive for the contractors to control costs, the Journal says.
If it all sounds familiar, that's because it is. "You can easily compare FEMA's internal resources to what you saw in the early days of the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq: a small, underfunded organization taking on a Herculean task under tremendous time pressure," Steven Schooner, a contracting expert at George Washington University, tells the Journal. "That is almost by definition a recipe for disaster."
The Journal says that "politically connected companies" like Fluor Corp. and Bechtel will profit from the arrangement. Halliburton will get its share of the Katrina money, too: As we've noted previously, its subsidiary, Kellogg, Brown & Root, is already at work at naval facilities in Mississippi.
There's another way in which this all brings back memories of Iraq: The Bush administration hasn't said a word about how it's going to pay for any of it. The Republicans mocked John Kerry throughout the presidential race for voting for $87 billion for Iraq before he voted against it. But all Kerry was doing then was demanding that the administration come up with some way to pay for its war. Joe Biden had proposed rolling back some of Bush's tax cuts to finance the $87 billion, and Kerry voted in support of Biden's amendment.
Will the White House agree to roll back tax cuts or cut other spending this time around? Don't count on it. OMB Director Joshua Bolten said last week that the federal government's share of Katrina costs - $62 billion and growing -- isn't a "long-term challenge" but is also so large that it's not "practically realistic" to compensate for it with budget cuts. Where we come from -- where the Republican Party used to come from -- that's called having your cake and eating it, too. And then leaving the tab for someone else.