Latest News: Faculty Engagement Corps Journal Day 1: On the road
Federal report on major flood recovery projects generates statewide, congressional response
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Nearly four years after floodwaters inundated the University of Iowa campus, the university is facing yet another challenge.
Today, the Office of Inspector General (OIG)—the audit organization for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)—found fault with FEMA’s replacement determinations and approvals for the university’s flood-damaged Hancher, School of Music, and studio art buildings.
• On June 28, 2012, the Office of Inspector General (OIG) released a report on FEMA’s decisions to replace rather than repair buildings at the UI.
• The OIG is an audit arm of the Federal Homeland Security Department. FEMA is within the Federal Homeland Security Department.
• The OIG has recommended that replacement project funding commitments for Hancher/Voxman-Clapp and the Art Building East be reversed based upon its interpretation of FEMA’s internal policies for replacing damaged buildings within a flood plain.
• FEMA Region VII, which includes Iowa, does not agree with the OIG’s report findings and recommendations. FEMA Region VII has filed its written objections which are included within the OIG’s report.
• The OIG audit focused on the method and calculations made by FEMA Region VII, not of any actions by the UI or the State of Iowa. The report is a recommendation to FEMA headquarters, which will have the opportunity to respond. (FEMA headquarters has indicated that it supports the actions of Region VII.)
• No de-obligations of federal awards have occurred.The UI and the state have $266 million in federal obligations for art, music and Hancher, as well as $6.7 million for demolition of flood damaged properties. The university remains absolutely dependent upon these federal grant amounts to undertake the replacement projects.
• The UI has strong support from the governor, board of regents, state officials, and our congressional delegation to persist and complete these critical replacement projects.
• The UI has been working closely with the Board of Regents, state leaders including Gov. Branstad, and its congressional delegation; that will continue.
• Planning and design processes will continue in close consultation with the regents leadership to make sure the UI's actions are in accord with the direction of the board.
• Acting upon written obligations from FEMA, the UI has thus far spent approximately $30 million on planning, design and acquisitions toward the three replacement projects.
• Enrollments in music and art/art history courses totaled 11,986 students during the 2011-12 academic year.
• Annual Hancher attendance totaled 68,640 in 2007, the year prior to the flood.
• Students, faculty, donors, and potential donors to these projects can be assured of the determination of the UI and the state. The university will continue to be open with them and other Iowans as developments unfold.
The UI has strong support by the governor, members of Congress, the Board of Regents, and the Office of Iowa Homeland Security to persist and complete these critical replacement projects.
“The state of Iowa, the Board of Regents, and the University of Iowa remain committed to expediting a full recovery from the devastating flooding that occurred in the summer of 2008,” said Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad and Iowa Board of Regents President Craig Lang in a joint statement. “We are frustrated that different interpretations of internal FEMA policies are having real and negative impacts on the University of Iowa’s recovery.
“Although the waters have long receded, the impact of the flood continues to hinder university students,” the statement continued. “A cultural void persists that has impacted tens of thousands of Iowans. We believe the federal government should be held accountable for flood recovery progress, especially as we mark the four-year anniversary of the historic flooding event. Project delays due to differing interpretations of Federal policy four years after the flood are unacceptable, unwelcome and counterproductive.
“To prevent further recovery delays, we hope that FEMA’s national leadership responds to the OIG report in a matter of weeks, not months. We are now more than four years after this disaster and the University of Iowa, its students, the Iowa City community, and the state cannot afford to put its recovery on hold. We expect FEMA to do the right thing and reaffirm its previous decisions to replace these buildings,” Branstad and Lang concluded.
Three and one-half years ago, the university received its first commitment from FEMA that Hancher, School of Music facilities, and the Art Building would be replaced. The original commitment, in writing, was affirmed a second time, in writing. With these guarantees, and a $266 million obligation by the federal government, the university has pushed forward towards recovery.
As recently as May 2012, FEMA obligated an additional $6.7 million in federal funds to raze these existing flood-damaged buildings located within the Iowa River flood plain.
“We are extremely grateful for the support of Gov. Branstad, our congressional delegation, the board of regents, and the Office of Iowa Homeland Security, and are very pleased with the forcefulness of FEMA’s rebuttal,” said UI President Sally Mason. “We are optimistic that with such support, FEMA’s national leadership soon will reaffirm its earlier, substantial commitments to these replacement projects, and prevent the university, its students, and the state of Iowa from twice becoming victims of the 2008 floods.
“After four years, it is unreasonable to expect that these flooded buildings be repaired and used as classrooms, studios, and performance space for our students,” Mason said. “While we are frustrated, be assured that the university is determined to replace these critical facilities as authorized by our board.“
Mark Schouten, administrator of the Iowa Homeland Security and Emergency Management Division, also issued a statement on the recommendations made by the OIG.
“An important element of an efficient recovery process is clear and consistent application of federal policies,” said Schouten. “FEMA officials have repeatedly affirmed their decisions to replace the Hancher/Voxman-Clapp and Art Building East facilities, and the university has relied upon FEMA’s decisions since the first analysis was completed in December 2008.
“In addition, minimizing future flooding costs by effective floodplain management is a sound long-term risk management approach that protects precious taxpayer dollars,” he continued. “If FEMA is going to change the interpretation of its policy, it should be a prospective change, not a retroactive change that penalizes the university financially for previous FEMA decisions and guidance. Flood recovery is difficult enough and retroactive measures would insert unnecessary uncertainty into the recovery process for communities across the country.
“The state and University of Iowa look forward to working with FEMA to resolve this outstanding issue expeditiously as the university and the state do not have the financial resources to shoulder the replacement of these facilities on their own. FEMA has the opportunity to officially respond to the OIG recommendations, and we will work with FEMA to add our perspective to the policy debate,” Schouten concluded.
Iowa’s congressional delegation also weighed in strongly in support of the university’s need to advance these critical flood recovery projects.
“The effort by local and state leaders in Iowa to recover from the floods of 2008 has been extraordinary,” said U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley. “The circumstances merited the kind of federal assistance that has been given to disasters in other parts of the country where natural disasters have also caused such tremendous damage. I've urged Administrator Fugate to give fair treatment to Iowa. The inspector general has issues with the way FEMA has utilized its discretion on these projects. The University of Iowa should not be penalized since it has followed FEMA's instructions."
“The inspector general’s report is not about law or regulation, but about a policy dispute that should not result in a withdrawal of committed FEMA funds,” said U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin. “Should the IG prevail in this dispute, it would be wrong as a matter of policy and would require the university to repay significant already spent funds. In addition, the inspector general’s view is not likely to save taxpayers the dollars claimed because FEMA will have to pay 90 percent of the actual costs of repairing the buildings. If the decision to build outside the flood plain is changed and the buildings are repaired instead, such repairs could well cost far more than what is now projected. Spending tens of millions of dollars to repair damaged buildings that may well flood again is neither in the interests of the university nor those of taxpayers.
“I have spoken to Administrator Fugate about these issues and I will continue to request that he disagree with the inspector general on the University of Iowa funds,” continued Harkin.
U.S. Rep. Dave Loebsack (IA-02) said, “Simply put, it’s inexcusable that students, our community, and eastern Iowa jobs are caught in the middle of a bureaucratic argument over policy interpretation by people in Washington D.C. It’s unfathomable that almost two years after this project was approved, recovery funds could be taken back, which is why I have already secured a commitment on the floor of Congress from the chairman of Homeland Security Appropriations to work with us to ensure Iowa’s recovery and economy moves forward and that Iowa communities don’t pay the price for a bureaucratic disagreement. Iowans shouldn’t have the rug pulled out from us after the federal government already committed to partnering with us to recover and rebuild from the devastating floods of 2008.”
U.S. Rep. Tom Latham (IA-04) stated, “It's unfortunate that the federal government appears to be sending mixed signals, wrapped up in the finest red tape Washington has available. As always, I stand ready to work with local and state leaders and with my colleagues in Congress to make sure all appropriate federal resources are made available to recover fully from natural disasters such as the flooding of 2008.”
“I am deeply disappointed by this sudden reversal from the Department of Homeland Security,” said U.S. Rep. Leonard Boswell (IA-03). “It has been four long years and these buildings need to be replaced as soon as possible as this is hurting the recovery of the university. I urge them to do the right thing and reaffirm FEMA's original decision.”
U.S. Rep. Steve King (IA-05) said, “It's disappointing that four years after flood waters ravaged the University of Iowa, the rules for rebuilding what was damaged may change. The university has already made significant investments in the recovery process in keeping with the guidance they've been given by FEMA. Injecting uncertainty into this process this late in the game will only serve to draw this four year effort out even further. I'm committed to working with the university, the state, and my colleagues in the delegation to ensure that the appropriate federal resources make their way to the university as soon as possible.”
“Sadly, this isn’t the first time that confusion over FEMA policies have jeopardized Iowa’s recovery from the 2008 floods,” said U.S. Rep. Bruce Braley (IA-01). “Retroactively penalizing the University of Iowa for internal policy disputes is simply unfair and unacceptable. I’m committed to working with Gov. Branstad and Iowa’s congressional delegation to protect recovery funds that have been committed to Iowa and keep FEMA from reneging on their promises.”