FEMA are a small but vital element when a disaster befalls our country. They blast into action after Tornadoes, Wild Fires, Hurricanes, Earthquakes, and a whole host of other disasters. They are in my mind an honorable and well meaning organization. But are they too trusting? That has been a question in my mind for some considerable time. I received an interesting phone call and an email from one man that knows the answer today.  I will publish the Press Release in its entirety, with no editing. You decide.

The US Department of Homeland Security Contacts Whistle Blower for Advice on How to Stop FEMA Fraud!

A Department of Homeland Security Senior Analyst blasted FEMA for having an inadequate plan to remove debris after natural disasters thus making it possible for contractors to defraud the government of over $300 million dollars a year.

In 2009, Keifer Bonvillain became a whistle blower for the Federal Government when he turned over a mountain of evidence collected while he worked as a supervisor for a monitoring firm (Beck Disaster Recovery) after Hurricane Gustav struck his hometown in Louisiana.  The evidence proved the government could be losing hundreds of millions of dollars each year to FEMA fraud and abuse.

Bonvillain posted much of the shocking evidence on a website , www.the-broken-road.com to promote a book he had written based on his experiences, The Broken Road to Disaster Recovery. The book and website caught the attention of Senior Analyst Craig Anderson (Emergency Management Oversight Office of Inspector General US Department of Homeland Security.)   Anderson assembled a panel and reached out to Bonvillain.

In a recorded conversation, Anderson told Bonvillain his office estimates the Government loses  1/3 of the 820 million it spends after natural disasters each year to fraud.  Bonvillain turned to the last chapter of the book, Stopping the Crooks, and described the FEMA fraud he witnessed and steps the Government could take to reduce it.  Anderson told Bonvillain, “What is amazing Keifer is FEMA has been removing debris for decades and they still don’t have a process just like you’ve described.  Isn’t that amazing?”  Anderson went on to say, “FEMA does not have people in the right places.  They are not able to understand the big picture.”  Bonvillain told Anderson, “It is mind boggling to a person working as a supervisor to see how easy it is to rob the government blind.  The storm I worked on is a relatively small storm, Gustav, but when you look at the big scope of things and these big companies and the way they operate, I can tell you now the government is losing hundreds of millions of dollars in FEMA fraud and waste every year.”  Anderson told Bonvillain, “You have just exposed the tip of the iceberg.   This thing is really a national problem . . . As long as you have uncle sugar paying all of the bills in Washington; it just leaves the door wide open to all kinds of abuse.” 

Immediately after the releases of the book and the website, Bonvillain began to receive emails from others who had witnessed FEMA fraud and abuse.  Bonvillain sent the emails to Anderson who said,  “It seems like the name of the storm doesn’t matter (Katrina, Gustav, Ike) the song is always the same.”

Anderson told Bonvillain, “You have performed such a service for the American people.  I can’t tell you how much we appreciate it.  We are just now starting a project and you are helping us to redefine how FEMA does debris removal.  . . We’ve been asked by Mr. Fugate, the new administrator for FEMA, he saying give me some new strategies for debris removal.  How do we fix it? I think your ideas will be front and center.”

I talked to Keifer a few minutes ago. And what he told me sent chills. He does have all of these calls recorded, and is prepared to go public with them. Keifer has been fighting this battle since he first got involved with Beck Disaster Recovery shortly after Hurricane Gustav.

Even more disturbing is that even though the federal authorities are aware of the allegations against Beck Disaster Recovery contracts continue to roll in. Senior Analyst for DHS Craig Anderson told Keifer:

Like you I was astonished and angered to see BDR rehired in Terrebonne Parish, which makes me realize that our debris removal audit will be vitally important for many communities. “

How much longer can Beck Disaster Recovery continue to receive these lucrative contracts with little or no oversight? Are they Louisiana’s answer to Blackwater, or whatever they call themselves this week?

One thing is very clear, this story is far from over.

You can read my review of Keifer Bonvillain’s book The Broken Road here. I suggest you do, it is an eye opening piece of writing.

Simon Barrett

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