The hasty appeal yielded one of the most controversial contracts of the Hurricane Katrina relief operation, a $236 million agreement with Carnival Cruise Lines for three ships that now bob more than half empty in the Mississippi River and Mobile Bay. The six-month contract -- staunchly defended by Carnival but castigated by politicians from both parties -- has come to exemplify the cost of haste that followed Katrina's strike and FEMA's lack of preparation.
To critics, the price is exorbitant. If the ships were at capacity, with 7,116 evacuees, for six months, the price per evacuee would total $1,275 a week, according to calculations by aides to Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.). A seven-day western Caribbean cruise out of Galveston can be had for $599 a person -- and that would include entertainment and the cost of actually making the ship move.
"When the federal government would actually save millions of dollars by forgoing the status quo and actually sending evacuees on a luxurious six-month cruise it is time to rethink how we are conducting oversight. A short-term temporary solution has turned into a long-term, grossly overpriced sweetheart deal for a cruise line," said Coburn and Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) in a joint statement yesterday calling for a chief financial officer to oversee Katrina spending.
The Carnival deal is only one of several instances in which a lack of FEMA preparation may have left federal taxpayers with an outsized bill. Despite its experiences with last year's busy hurricane season, FEMA found itself without standing contracts for standard relief items such as blue tarps to cover damaged roofs, according to Thomas A. Schatz, president of Citizens Against Government Waste.
"It is ridiculous that they can't have the supply on hand for these basics that you know you'll need in every instance," Schatz said.
Not just waste, but a further example of the poor leadership and lack of preparedness at FEMA.