Inquiry called into 9/11 relief

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Before construction of the planned Freedom Tower and memorial at the site of the former World Trade Center even begins, the U. S. Congress will in February launch a major inquiry into what happened to billions of dollars in recovery money funnelled into New York in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Demand for an official investigation follows allegations that bureaucrats have made mind-boggling decisions in allocating the aid, directing huge amounts to big business and financially secure lawyers, but payouts as low as $10 to small enterprises.

Other claims suggest firms with links to organized crime also got a piece of the pie, while huge numbers of people living far from the disaster site took advantage of a federal “clean-air” program that offered air conditioners, air purifiers and filters and vacuum cleaners for free.

“I pledge to do whatever has to be done to find out what happened and why,” says Peter King, Republican chairman of the homeland security committee in the House of Representatives, who ordered the congressional probe. “The memory of those who were murdered that day deserves no less.”

While claims of mis-allocation of federal funds following hurricane Katrina’s Gulf Coast strike last fall were almost immediate, the far greater loss of life suffered in the 2001 attacks perhaps explains the delay in any study of Washington’s recovery program for New York.

Now that tough questions are being asked for the first time, hardly a New York politician is shying from calling for a full investigation.

“I think we need to pursue some of the leads ... to make sure every penny is properly used,” said Senator Hillary Clinton.

Expected to last many months, the investigation will start by looking at a massive file put together by the New York Daily News, whose seven-part series following its own four-month investigation has thrown down the gauntlet.

The clean air program, run by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, was perhaps the most widely abused program. The program — which essentially replaced products such as air conditioners, vacuum cleaners and air purifiers damaged by floating debris after the towers collapsed — had an initial budget of $15 million US, but ended up costing $130 million. Thousands of applicants lived far from Ground Zero or the path of the debris.