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Red Tape A Disaster In Itself

Factory workers understand that whatever tasks are assigned to them must be completed within a certain amount of time. If they aren’t, an entire assembly line can be slowed down or even stopped.

Management’s task is to prevent obstacles from getting in the way of line workers. It often is a science so exact that motion studies — looking at precisely what movements are needed to complete a task and comparing them to what workers actually do — are used by some companies.

Many working people are on the clock, so to speak. If your newspaper carrier hasn’t completed his or her route by the time you want your paper, there’s a problem. Ditto for your mail carrier.

What about RISE West Virginia, or whatever we’re calling the flood relief program these days? Obviously, no one involved in that is on the clock.

Our state-based effort to aid victims of June 2016 floods has been so lackluster that even the bureaucrats in Washington see a problem. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has placed us on its “slow spender” list for disaster relief funds.

One statistic makes the situation clear: In February 2018, HUD officials authorized the state to begin drawing down $149 million in federal money meant to help the 2016 flood victims. Since then, West Virginia has spent just $17 million of that amount.

It’s not that we don’t need the money. Hundreds of people whose homes were damaged heavily or destroyed are waiting for help, more than three years after the disaster.

Officials in the flood relief program blame much of the delay on state and federal requirements for spending the money.

A certain amount of oversight is imperative, of course. Here in West Virginia, where we view corrupt public officials as a fourth branch of government, safeguards against shoddy work and outright fraud are necessary.

But other states given federal disaster aid seem to be able to get it to victims expeditiously. Why can’t we? Is there no sense of urgency among those who have to check off all the boxes on a stack of state and federal report forms? Is West Virginia’s system for disbursing disaster relief money an institutional brake on bureaucrats who are doing their best?

What would happen if the whole process was turned over to a private-sector company with a contract stipulating it had to meet existing state and federal regulations under a deadline?

It’s not a rhetorical question. I honestly don’t know the answer — but perhaps it’s a question members of the state Legislature should ask.

Myer can be reached at: mmyer@theintelligencer.net.

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