Members of the House of Representatives approved an amendment to the Hurricane Sandy aid measure today to require more public disclosure on federal disaster grants.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency emergency routinely awards grants, many of them without public notice. FEMA is not required to disclose a grant of less than $1 million, according to Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-KS, who sponsored the amendment.
Under the loophole, FEMA "can spend $999,999 to a grantee recipient and it will not be public knowledge," Huelskamp, told The Washington Examiner. The agency will have to disclose all of its grants if Huelskamp's amendment becomes law.
Huelskamp said federal authorization of funds "does not mean we put on the blindfolds and pray that the money gets where it needs to go."
In 2010, FEMA grants to states and localities totaled nearly $350 million. A September 2012 Inspector General report estimated the agency made $621 million in improper payments.
An April, 2011 IG report said FEMA was unable to measure the effectiveness of its grants.
The House also approved an amendment to the Sandy aid bill to require that disaster aid funds not be spent on non-disaster aid activities such as acquiring land.
The amendment was sponsored by Rep. Rob Bishop, R-UT, who is a member of the House Natural Resources Committee.
“We must put safeguards in place to ensure that disaster relief funds are used appropriately and responsibly to address immediate emergency needs. Land acquisition does not qualify as ‘emergency,’ nor ‘immediate’ hurricane relief,” Bishop said.
The federal government owns 660 million acres, or about one-third of the landmass of the United States, making it the country’s largest land owner.
“Resources allocated to the departments of Interior and Agriculture ought to address needs on existing federal land and not the acquisition of new land. As things stand, there was already a maintenance backlog on our federal lands prior to Hurricane Sandy. The last thing we need to be doing is exacerbating this problem by adding to the federal estate,” Bishop said.