West Virginia needs whistles — and blowers
In West Virginia, corruption and waste by public officials have been so pervasive for so many years that one might have thought no one would have to be told to watch spending of federal disaster relief money carefully. But federal officials indeed did have to do that.
Federal Emergency Management Agency officials were so concerned about the lack of oversight of grants that they placed West Virginia in a special category. Since 2015, federal grant money handled by the state Division of Homeland Security and Management has been under a “manual reimbursement” policy.
Under that requirement, the state funds had to be used for some initial disaster relief expenditures and disbursements to local governments. Only then, once acceptable documentation had been provided, would federal reimbursement be approved.
At one point, it was believed no other state was required to handle FEMA grant funds in that manner.
Making the situation more unsavory was the fact FEMA’s restriction apparently was not made known to high-ranking state officials for a substantial amount of time.
To his credit, Gov. Jim Justice appears to have ordered some housecleaning in the emergency management. That paid off a few weeks ago, when federal officials took West Virginia off the manual reimbursement list.
So state oversight appears to be satisfactory in Washington. Good.
But accountability safeguards have a way of slipping in West Virginia. To put it bluntly, the good ol’ boy network resists oversight of the type FEMA requires — and Mountain State residents should demand. Every dollar of federal disaster assistance money wasted, or even stolen, means someone in genuine need of help does not receive it.
State officials seem confident they can maintain adequate oversight over “sub-recipients” — local government entities — of FEMA grant money. That will happen only if West Virginia legislators, in a bipartisan effort, continue to ask lots of questions and insist on answers not just from a few top officials, but from enough others to ensure that if mismanagement occurs, someone will blow the whistle on it.