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World News: Louisiana governor asks Congress for hurricane rebuilding help Black Habits Articles Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco asked Congress on Wednesday for help in rebuilding her devastated state, saying hurricanes Katrina and Rita "knocked us down but they did not knock us out."

Appearing before the Senate finance committee, Blanco, in her opening statement, did not mention former FEMA director Michael Brown, who on Tuesday had blamed state and local officials in Louisiana for not responding appropriately to the storm. "We are looking forward, not backward, " Blanco said. Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour and Alabama Gov. Bob Riley also were testifying before the committee via teleconference hookup from their state capitols. The Senate panel is working on a long-term tax bill to help revitalize the hurricane-devastated U.S. Gulf Coast. Blanco said 40 per cent of Louisiana's businesses were lost or damaged in the storm and said the state's most pressing need is jobs. "That's what we need," she said. "That's exactly what we need in the face of this suffering and hardship - jobs." Across the Capitol, a House panel was hearing pledges from government auditors that they will closely examine millions of dollars in contracts the Bush administration awarded to politically connected companies for hurricane Katrina relief. The inspectors general from half a dozen agencies, as well as officials from the Government Accountability Office, on Wednesday were addressing a House subcommittee on the Katrina cleanup and announcing several new audits to combat waste and fraud. They are pledging strong oversight that includes a review of no-bid contracts and close scrutiny of federal employees who now enjoy a $250,000 - rather than a $2,500 - purchase limit for Katrina-related expenses on their government-issued credit cards. "When so much money is available, it draws people of less than perfect character," Walker Feaster, inspector general of the Federal Communications Commission, said. "It underscores the need for internal controls of the money going out." Previous government audits have shown that the credit cards have been used to pay for prostitutes, gambling activity and even breast implants. About 250,000 U.S. federal employees have the government cards. The joint appearance of government auditors comes amid a flurry of legislation pending in Congress that would create additional layers of oversight to the Katrina contracting and award process. It also comes amid growing charges of favouritism that critics say led to government missteps in the wake of the Katrina disaster. In a House hearing Tuesday, both Republicans and Democrats assailed Brown, who critics say lacked proper experience for the job and for his performance in handling emergency aid. Brown admitted making some mistakes but placed the brunt of the blame on the Louisiana governor, the New Orleans mayor and even the Bush White House that appointed him. Blanco on Tuesday had vehemently denied that she waited until the eve of the storm to order an evacuation of New Orleans. She said her order came on the morning of Aug. 27 - two days before the storm - resulting in 1.3 million people evacuating the city. "Such falsehoods and misleading statements, made under oath before Congress, are shocking," Blanco said in a statement Tuesday. Legislators were turning their attention to the lucrative Katrina contracts. In the weeks after the Aug. 29 storm, more than 80 per cent of the $1.5 billion in contracts awarded by FEMA for Katrina work were handed out with little or no competition or had open-ended or vague terms that previous audits have cited as being highly prone to abuse. They included contracts such as a $16-million deal involving Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg, Brown & Root Services Inc. of Arlington, Va., that has been cited for overcharging the government for work in Iraq; and San-Francisco-based Bechtel Corp. Both companies have strong ties to the Bush administration.

Note: 01:25 PM EDT Sep 28 HOPE YEN
Posted on Wednesday, September 28 @ 14:54:25 UTC by bspringer

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