NEW ORLEANS - A week after Hurricane Katrina, a Federal Emergency Management Agency official in charge of streamlining the flow of disaster aid issued a directive that would have cut through the red tape and expedited a staggering 1,029 rebuilding projects and $5.3 billion.
The official issued a memo that said that once local and regional FEMA officials approve a project, Washington must release the money within three days.
But in a decision critics say led to the loss of precious time in New Orleans's recovery, FEMA higher-ups countermanded the order.
Instead, the rebuilding of schools, roads, hospitals, firehouses, and other desperately needed infrastructure was held up for months of interagency reviews that ended at the White House Office of Management and Budget.
Gil Jamieson, FEMA's head of Gulf Coast recovery and one of the officials who countermanded the directive of Nancy Ward, said her order would have given federal agencies too little time to review requests for funding.
"There's certainly a responsibility that we have, and I have, as a civil service official, to ensure those dollars are going to the purposes they were intended," he said.
However, despite FEMA's contention that added layers of review would save taxpayer dollars, not a single rebuilding project was amended, declared ineligible, or kicked back for further scrutiny, federal officials acknowledge.
Ward, who later was promoted to FEMA's West Coast director and led its response to the recent California wildfires, stands by the policy she issued on Sept. 6, 2005. She was FEMA's Louisiana-based director of recovery command.
"We knew given the enormity of Katrina that we needed to get the money out quickly," said Ward, who was contacted after the Associated Press found her memo on the website of the Louisiana legislative auditor.