Congress is considering directing that the Special Inspector General for Relief and Reconstruction (SIGR) play an oversight role in the Katrina Reconstruction effort. That makes a lot of sense. Residents of the Gulf Coast should not have to face the additional disaster of an array of federal projects marred by inefficiency, waste, and red tape. SIGR has played an instrumental role in handling similar issues in Iraq, understands the challenges, and has the people and skills on hand to tackle the problem. Giving this mission to a capable, existing organization is good governance.
Baghdad and Baton Rouge
The challenges in Iraq and the Gulf Coast are not dissimilar. In both cases, massive public and private efforts have to be mobilized to repair infrastructure, look after people, and reestablish economic life. In both cases, the federal government will be awarding huge contracts to private firms and partnering extensively with local governments. And in both cases, the potential for mistakes, mismanagement, and abuse are vast.
The Role of the Inspector General
Inspectors General (IGs) are established by law. The IGs serve under the general supervision of an agency head. Yet, by statute, they are independent and report both to the agency head and to Congress.
While all federal departments have an IG, none are in a good position to look into post-Katrina rebuilding efforts. The project is too big in scope and will involve too many federal agencies for any single IG. Creating a new office specifically for Katrina won't work either. It would take too much time. Reconstruction is already underway, and contracts are being signed now.
SIGR, in contrast, is a standing organization, with a mandate to oversee multiple federal agencies and a demonstrated track record in examining the sort of issues that Katrina raises. According to its latest quarterly report to the Department of Defense and the Department of State, the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR) oversees $26.9 billion dollars in U.S. and international funds. The report lays out exactly what programs and initiatives are funded and their effectiveness, whether in measures of electricity service coverage and uptime or the cost of overhead. Furthermore, SIGIR already noted in a September 7th testimony before Congress that challenges it now faces and has successfully addressed in the reconstruction effort in Iraq are the same challenges that lie ahead in the reconstruction of the Gulf Coast Region.
A Role for SIGR
Congress should give SIGR oversight responsibilities for the federal post-Katrina reconstruction effort. Its mandate should include looking at intergovernmental and interagency coordination, program management, acquisition and contract management, and human resources.
James Jay Carafano, Ph.D., is Senior Research Fellow for National Security and Homeland Security, and Laura Keith is a Research Assistant, in the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies at The Heritage Foundation.