Louis Jacobson
By Louis Jacobson November 15, 2012

No CFO for national disasters, but duties addressed

During the presidential campaign, Barack Obama promised to "appoint a chief financial officer to oversee the rebuilding following national disasters to minimize waste and abuse."

In September 2011, the Obama administration released an intergovernmental plan for handling future disasters titled, "National Disaster Recovery Framework: Strengthening Disaster Recovery for the Nation.”

We looked through this plan but did not see any mention of a "chief financial officer.” We did see an outline of the federal officials responsible for dealing with disasters. A federal coordinating officer is the highest-ranking federal official for a disaster, with a "federal disaster recovery coordinator” serving as the deputy.

The federal disaster recovery coordinator is responsible for "facilitating disaster recovery coordination and collaboration between the federal, tribal, state and local governments, the private sector and voluntary, faith-based and community organizations,” the framework says.

The framework does address waste, fraud and abuse on two occasions. It says "factors of a successful recovery” include "adequate financial monitoring and accounting systems for new and large levels of investment,” including "systems that detect and deter fraud, waste and abuse.” And it says that federal and state officials will "coordinate” to "prosecute disaster-related fraud, waste, discrimination and abuse and recover lost funds.”

But two passing mentions in a 116-page report doesn't exactly make for a headline issue.

What's happened after real disasters? For a long time, we resisted rating this promise because experts we consulted with agreed that there was no disaster of a large enough scale to require this sort of response.

But then Hurricane Sandy slammed into the Atlantic coastline in late October 2012. On Nov. 15, 2012, Obama announced that Obama "has asked Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan to continue to work closely with governors, mayors and local officials of New Jersey and New York as they begin the process of identifying redevelopment plans for affected communities.”

This was enough for us to move a separate Obama pledge -- to appoint a "federal coordinating officer to direct reconstruction efforts” following a major disaster -- to Promise Kept.

For this promise, though, the administration's progress hasn't been as clear. In administration summaries about its work on Sandy, we have not yet seen specific references to combating waste and abuse. To be fair, it's still early -- as this update was being written, some residents were still lacking power and basic necessities.

Because the administration has cited the importance of fighting waste, fraud and abuse -- but in passing, without a specific official being tasked with the assignment -- we rate this promise a Compromise.

Louis Jacobson
By Louis Jacobson March 16, 2011

Until there's a major natural disaster, we're keeping this at Not Yet Rated

During the presidential campaign, Barack Obama promised to "appoint a chief financial officer to oversee the rebuilding following national disasters to minimize waste and abuse."

Readers have periodically asked us why we have not yet rated this promise and one other related to disaster relief. Our answer has been that there has been no natural disaster of sufficient size to trigger the actions described in this promise.

For instance, the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico was a large event, but its impact was primarily on natural resources and the economy and did not destroy enough infrastructure to prompt a major and long-lasting "rebuilding” effort funded by federal money.

However, some readers have suggested that the flooding that hit parts of Tennessee, Kentucky and Mississippi in early May 2010 -- which was particularly damaging in Nashville -- might qualify as a big enough disaster. More than two dozen deaths were reported.

So we asked several independent experts in disaster recovery whether the Nashville floods -- or any other natural disaster since January 2009 -- would have been far-reaching enough to trigger this promise.

The consensus was that it wasn't.

Robert B. Olshansky, an urban and regional planning professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, said that in the past quarter century, only about a half-dozen natural disasters would have clearly demanded a response like the one outlined in this promise.

They include the Loma Prieta earthquake near San Francisco (1989), Hurricane Andrew in southern Florida (1992), the Midwest floods (1993), the Northridge earthquake near Los Angeles (1994), hurricanes Charley, Frances, Ivan, and Jeanne in Florida (2004), and Hurricanes Katrina and Rita along the Gulf Coast (2005). He said a few other events might have qualified, such as Hurricane Ike along the Gulf Coast (2008), but including these would be a judgment call.

Our experts agreed that neither the Nashville floods nor any event since Obama's inauguration would have triggered the response Obama promised. Until there is one, we'll keep this promise at Not Yet Rated.

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