Hurricane Katrina

Pre-disaster contracts urged

WASHINGTON - FEMA wants state and local governments to arrange pre-disaster debris removal contracts using a new online database that could help local companies get a slice of the business.

Agency officials touted the new registry as a way to help cities and towns immediately start debris removal after catastrophes like Hurricane Katrina. City and state officials can select contractors based on registry listings created by the companies themselves.

FEMA spokesman Michael Widomski said the agency hopes local officials will use the database to identify contractors who can move quickly to help clear storm debris.

Cities and states are responsible for storm cleanup, but FEMA said the Army Corps of Engineers could still step in if local officials were overwhelmed

Mike Womack, interim director of the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency, said the new guidelines were "moving in the right direction," but didn't do enough to help cities cut bureaucratic red tape.

"The problem you are going to have in debris removal is [the new guidelines] don't go far enough in making sure that local governments don't lose money because they have removed ineligible debris," Womack said.

While the new guidelines define what FEMA considers debris eligible for reimbursement, Womack said that the federal government needs to have people on the ground identifying ineligible debris and stopping the removal when it appears cities are about to run afoul of regulations.