Katrina oversight proposals compete for Congress' attention

Move to establish central board to oversee recovery efforts appears to be on back burner.

When President Bush delivers a third emergency supplemental for Hurricane Katrina relief and rebuilding efforts, House and Senate Republican leaders are likely to feel strong pressure again from their rank-and-file to ensure billions of dollars are not wasted.

There are several competing management and oversight proposals on the table, with some calling for a chief financial officer, a special inspector general or a reconstruction czar.

While a consensus proposal has yet to emerge, lawmakers from both parties seem to agree that Congress must act to impose greater financial accountability despite the Bush administration's recent moves to safeguard federal reconstruction spending.

Senate Budget Committee Chairman Judd Gregg, R-N.H., and Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., recently introduced a bill to establish a central board that would oversee recovery efforts.

The president would appoint the director of the board, with Senate approval, to oversee budgeting and develop a comprehensive rebuilding plan.

The board, dubbed the Gulf Coast Revitalization Authority, would include an auditor and anti-fraud staff.

But the bill does not appear to be on a fast track at this point.

In an e-mail message last week, a Gregg spokeswoman said Gregg has "notified" the Senate GOP leadership of his proposal. "It is still early in the process," she wrote.

Any effort to get serious about the plan appears likely to run into stiff White House headwinds.

While noting President Bush has not ruled in or out the idea of some type of new federal position tasked to oversee the Gulf Coast effort, White House Deputy Press Secretary Trent Duffy last week suggested Bush has clear concerns with the Gregg-Kennedy bill.

Duffy indicated the legislation gives the federal government too strong a role, saying local leaders should take the lead.

The bill does, however, include local officials in planning the region's redevelopment, according to a summary by Gregg's office.

In a similar vein, Senate Energy and Natural Resources Comittee Chairman Pete Domenici, R-N.M., and 11 GOP colleagues have called for an independent manager to oversee the reconstruction and monitor spending.

Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairwoman Susan Collins, R-Maine, and ranking member Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., are pushing for Congress to hire the special inspector general overseeing rebuilding efforts in Iraq to serve as a federal watchdog for U.S. contracts in the Gulf Coast.

And Sens. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., and Barack Obama, D-Ill., have introduced legislation to create an independent chief financial officer who would review every contract before the checks are signed.

House Republican Policy Committee Chairman John Shadegg of Arizona is co-sponsoring a House companion bill.

House Government Reform Government Management Subcommittee Chairman Todd Platts, R-Pa., has a bill that would create a council of inspector generals led by the Homeland Security Department's chief investigator.

The proposal was implemented recently by the administration.

Platts and Government Reform Committee Chairman Tom Davis, R-Va., have argued against appointing a special inspector general, saying it would create another layer of bureaucracy and subvert the authority of the inspectors general already on the government's payroll.

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