Senate panel approves special IG to audit Katrina spending

Special inspector general overseeing reconstruction efforts in Iraq also would audit billions in funding for hurricane relief.

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee approved legislation Thursday to hire the special inspector general overseeing reconstruction efforts in Iraq to audit the billions in funding for relief and rebuilding efforts in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

The bill (S. 1738) would require the inspector general's office to audit and investigate the federal programs doling out funding to victims in the Gulf Coast region.

The panel approved the bill by voice vote.

Several lawmakers in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina have repeatedly called for President Bush to appoint an individual to oversee the billions of dollars in funding for rescue, relief and reconstruction efforts.

Many legislators have offered plans to appoint a chief financial officer, special inspector general and a reconstruction czar to manage rebuilding efforts.

The White House has rejected lawmakers' proposals for an overarching office to investigate federal assistance programs and contracts, arguing it would add layers of bureaucracy that would slow needed assistance to the Gulf Coast region.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff has assigned the department's inspector general to coordinate the government's auditing activities for hurricane-related programs.

While some lawmakers have argued Chertoff's plan is inadequate, other legislators Thursday said the White House should handle the issue.

"I think we ought to give the president the opportunity to sort this out himself," said Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John Warner, R-Va.

The committee also approved a bill (S. 939) allowing the federal government to reimburse individuals in the Gulf Coast region for debris removal from their property in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. The bill would require the Homeland Security Department to pay individuals 50 percent of the federal share of assistance for debris removal within 60 days of the filed claim.

It would also expand the requirements for reimbursement to include clearing, removing and disposing of debris on any emergency access road and private property.

The panel approved the measure by voice vote.

Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., who lost a home to Hurricane Katrina, asked for the government to make the change to federal law.

Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chairwoman Collins said she had not been informed when the legislation would come to the Senate floor for a vote, but said hurricane relief legislation is a "top priority" in the coming weeks.