Mona Charen

Perhaps you've heard the one about the 700 firefighters from a variety of states who volunteered to do rescue work following Hurricane Katrina? They sat in a hotel room in Atlanta for days getting sexual harassment training from FEMA officials. No joke. Note to Republicans eager to shovel new money at federal agencies: This is the way government works.

 Now there's more news that ought to be, but isn't, a joke. Casting about for a place to temporarily house the people stuck in the Superdome and convention center in the days following Katrina, FEMA contracted with a cruise line to provide three ships at a cost of $236 million. But as aides for Sen. Tom Coburn calculated and The Washington Post reported, this averaged out to a rate of $1,275 per evacuee, per week. A quick glance at the newspaper would reveal that a seven-day western Caribbean cruise embarking from Galveston can go for as little as $599 per person. And that includes entertainment and the cost of actually propelling the ship through the water.

 How did FEMA get snookered? Well, just consider the demands the agency made on would-be suppliers. Apparently, after a one-day competition, the agency received bids from 13 ships -- but only four met FEMA's requirements. Among these necessities were "full meal service, between-meal snacks, linen and maid service, medical support, and prescription refills." People evacuated from the Superdome could not be expected to make their own beds or clean their own rooms aboard an all-expenses-paid cruise ship? They had to have between-meal snacks? Sigh. As it happens, the ships sit half empty in the Mississippi River and Mobile Bay.

Mona Charen

Mona Charen is a syndicated columnist, political analyst and author of Do-Gooders: How Liberals Hurt Those They Claim to Help .
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