Suppose a substantial amount of your tax money goes to a government agency that writes checks to all kinds of people following a disaster. And suppose the agency issues no-bid contracts, is accused of cronyism, and has demonstrated incompetence in spending — thereby wasting — your tax money…
A federal judge in Fort Myers will decide whether newspapers can see the names and addresses of the people who received nearly $5.3 billion in after-storm payments [from 2004]. Seeking to learn if the payments were fair and equitable, The News-Press in Fort Myers, the Pensacola News Journal and Florida Today, all owned by Gannett Inc., sued after FEMA refused to release the records.
Most larger newspapers, including the Times-Union, spend a lot of money each year on legal fees to ensure openness of government and openness of public records. Usually they seek information that any taxpayer should be able to obtain easily…
Why would competent administrators not want us to know how tax money is being spent?
…There are consequences to not knowing what’s in FEMA’s files. Excessive costs and wasted tax money are examples. There are others.
Perhaps if the secrecy had been lifted a year ago, allowing the media and others to watchdog more carefully in 2004, a few outcomes would have been different in 2005.
Perhaps if the crazy way FEMA doles out money had been uncovered sooner, we could have avoided wasting some of the many millions wasted after Katrina.
Perhaps if a firestorm of scrutiny had focused on FEMA earlier, a more effective agency with stronger leadership could have been in place to enable FEMA to respond more effectively and thereby reduce the misery or even save lives.
No one knows what might have happened, of course, but this explains why newspapers are suing FEMA. Taxpayers should be able to see the books.