by Brian Beutler, The Media Consortium: Tue., Jul 17, 2007
Filed under: House Oversight Committee Reports
Part 2 of 2 Part Series
After Hurricane Katrina pummeled the Gulf Coast in late August 2005, tens of billions of dollars in federal and private contracts (the largest of which went to companies like Bechtel, Halliburton, and its subsidiary Kellogg, Brown, and Root) were dispatched to New Orleans to fund a clean-up effort the president said would require “a sustained federal commitment to our fellow citizens.” That, of course, never came to pass.
Thanks to its initial disastrous rescue effort, today, the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) receives most of the blame for chaos in New Orleans. But it wasn’t just FEMA. The anatomy of the failed reconstruction is complicated, but understanding what went wrong requires examining the Department of Labor (DOL) as much as any other agency. The DOL has been in decline for a generation, suffering from long-term decreases in funding even as the number of people whose livelihoods it is supposed to protect has grown. The problems have only been exacerbated throughout the six-and-a-half years of the Bush administration. But the consequences have never been more appalling than in New Orleans, where the failure of high-level DOL officials to require proactive oversight of reconstruction employers led to an endless string of abuses, which were detailed in Part 1. After Katrina, employers, unfettered by rules, became less concerned with the task at hand than with profiting at the expense of workers without protection. They became predators in a lawless environment. Part two of this series examines how the DOL enabled such lawlessness.