U.S. Seeks to Speed Flood Aid

Article excerpt

Frustrated by bureaucratic snags that are delaying buyouts and other help for flood victims, some legislators and White House officials are trying to "clear away the underbrush."

The first swipe at the red-tape snags comes next week, when the House Public Works Committee considers bills by Missouri and Illinois legislators that aim to streamline and expand buyout programs.

At the same time, White House officials - who are getting complaints from impatient victims of the Flood of '93 - are moving to shorten some of the delays that have caught thousands of Midwesterners in a bureaucratic limbo while awaiting aid programs.

Federal flood programs "need to become a lot more user-friendly," said Kathleen McGinty, director of the White House environmental policy office. She is co-chairwoman of a group that is laying out the whole smorgasboard of federal aid programs for flood victims

"An awful lot of communities are expressing interest in relocation, buyouts or other alternative methods of flood control," McGinty said. "We've found ourselves to be coming up a little short, so we're redoubling our efforts to be more responsive."

Although one White House-led group is developing some long-range suggestions to revamp river and flood-plain management in the Upper Mississippi Basin, other groups are working on short-term goals. Among them:

Providing state and local flood officials with a "flood smorgasbord" - an exhaustive list of every federal program or "policy tool" that can be linked together to help flooded communities and farms.

Ordering every federal agency that has studied the Upper Mississippi Basin to assemble all their information into a comprehensive data base that will give policy-makers a full picture of the options for changing the way the river basin is managed.

That information, to be distributed to state, local and federal officials, would include the Army Corps of Engineers' levee data, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's suggestions for wetlands and other potential wildlife habitats, and the Agriculture Department's maps of croplands and soil types.

"From the start, our top priority has been to give as much help, as fast as possible, to the flood victims," said Oleta C. Fitzgerald, the top flood aide to Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy. President Bill Clinton appointed Espy to coordinate the federal flood effort.

But now that most of the flood water has receded, the government has begun to focus on the tangle of longer-range issues. Fitzgerald said the administration wanted to "prioritize the need, and be as creative, efficient and effective as possible" in helping out.

But some worry that those swipes at red tape may be too little and too late to be of much use to victims of the Flood of '93.

"The administration has not yet shown sufficient leadership to make the (buyout) programs more flexible, and to address the need to cut across the bureaucratic red tape," said Timothy D. …