(CNSNews.com) – (CNSNews.com) – FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate told a House subcommittee on Tuesday that his agency has ended “bad business” practices by turning off cell phones and shutting down Internet lines that have gone unused for years.
“This isn’t so much fraud and waste, it’s just bad business,” Fugate said in response to Rep. Laura Richardson’s (D-Calif.) question on what FEMA is doing to stop waste, fraud and abuse.
“We would turn on numerous cell phones, we would put in IT lines for disasters, and then after the disaster, nobody turned it off. So we went through the process of just shutting down – this goes back to Hurricane Isabel -- back, you know, around 2003,” Fugate said.
“We had IT, T1 phone lines installed, nobody had turned off. We kept paying the bills -- the bill came in because the acquisitions folks got a bill. It looked good. They paid it… That alone saved us millions of dollars.”
Fugate said some of the saved money has been diverted to staff training -- part of FEMA’s efforts to operate more efficiently.
“So it’s not only looking at waste, looking at fraud, but really looking at just how are we running these disasters and making sure that when we close a disaster out, it isn’t just we are done physically -- we actually recover our property, we actually turn off things, we recover cell phones – if we can’t recover cell phones, we turn them off,” Fugate said.
“And these were things we were not doing consistently,” Fugate said. “Just coming in and looking at this; we’ve already seen that these are millions of dollars.”
Fugate said the only “unintended consequence” of FEMA’s efforts to cut waste was shutting off a deputy administrator’s cell phone service -- twice. “But it’s working again,” he added.
The House Subcommittee on Emergency Communications, Preparedness, and Response held its hearing in advance of Congress approving the Homeland Security Department’s proposed $10.5-billion budget for FEMA for fiscal year 2011. (FEMA falls under the Department of Homeland Security.)
"Given the current economic environment, I was pleased to see the administration requested $10.5 billion for FEMA in FY 2011, an increase of $168 million from the FY 2010 enacted level," subcommittee chairman Richardson said in her opening statement on Tuesday.
Richardson noted that recent disasters such as the earthquakes in Haiti and Chile "require us to ask whether FEMA has the resources to carry out its mission here at home today."
Richardson said while she supports FEMA's overall budget request, she is concerned about proposed reductions in state and local grant programs as well as a proposed $200 million cut to “vital firefighter grant programs," which she described as “the last lifeline for fire departments struggling to sustain their capabilities in this economic downturn."
Republicans on the committee also expressed concern about scaling back grants to firefighters.
On the positive side, Richardson said she does support FEMA's policy of “regional office empowerment.”
"I also know your vision for FEMA includes a shift away from government-centric disaster management to a more multi-sector collaborative approach," Richardson said. At the same time, she cautioned FEMA not to "shy away from its leadership role in disaster management."