Lawmaker to Bush: Help cut Katrina red tape
Louisiana's Jindal urges more FEMA contracts for local firms
Rep. Bobby Jindal, R-Louisiana
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BATON ROUGE, Louisiana (CNN) -- President Bush toured ravaged parts of Louisiana on Tuesday, six weeks after Hurricane Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast.
As the president made his eighth trip to the region since the disaster, U.S. Rep. Bobby Jindal, R-Louisiana, told CNN's Miles O'Brien that he planned to meet with Bush and suggest how the Federal Emergency Management Agency can cut red tape and help local businesses.
O'BRIEN: The president is returning to the region -- trip No. 8 -- including St. Tammany Parish, Louisiana, which is right in the heart of your district. Eight trips -- is that too many?
JINDAL: You know, I think the important thing is that he actually does some work while he's down here.
He was down here a couple of weeks ago. He heard firsthand from us our concerns about local payrolls, local cities not being able to keep their first responders on the payroll. Quickly something was done about that.
Today when we meet with the president we're going to talk about the importance of Louisiana businesses to rebuild our economy.
So, as long as he's taking action after these trips, I have no problem with him coming down here. It keeps the nation's attention on Louisiana. It keeps the nation's attention on the Gulf Coast.
I think the important thing is, after the pictures are done, after the media is gone, it is important that he goes back to Washington and his administration continues to support the rebuilding effort.
O'BRIEN: It's been a month since President Bush delivered his national address in New Orleans' Jackson Square about how the government should help Katrina victims. Are his proposals happening?
JINDAL: His rhetoric was exactly right. Unfortunately, the bureaucracy has not lived up to that rhetoric.
I've heard from my constituents. I heard from one man who sells mobile homes and trailers in Jefferson Parish, in the area that was hit by the hurricane. He was trying desperately to try to provide these two people that needed temporary housing. For five weeks, he's tried. He's bought hundreds of these trailers. He finally signed a partnership -- a contract -- with an out-of-state retailer because they had a FEMA contract. That story has multiplied thousands of times.
O'BRIEN: Why did that happen?
JINDAL: The frustrating thing is that Louisiana companies are saying they're not being invited to bid [on government contracts]. They're not being allowed to compete [for contracts]. They don't want guaranteed contracts; they just want the opportunity to prove they can be cost-effective -- they can hire local employees.
Look, we're spending a lot of money providing housing, education and health care -- appropriately -- but the sooner we put people back to work, the less help they'll need -- the sooner this region will get back on its feet.
O'BRIEN: A lot of these businesses are on their knees after Katrina. Is that the problem, or is it more deep-seated?
JINDAL: I think it's more deep-seated. I mean you're right; there are some companies that don't have housing, don't have employees.
But we've talked to accounting firms, we've talked to pest-control firms, we've talked to trailers -- debris-removal firms. So many times, so many of these firms feel like the government is simply contracting agencies they've always contracted with before.
The president has said, 'We're gonna make it a priority to use local companies, local employees.' We want the federal bureaucracy, the state bureaucracy to live up to that rhetoric.
We're beginning to see signs of movement. FEMA's now said they're going to re-bid four of those no-bid contracts. Yesterday, they announced new rules to give a priority to small businesses. We're hoping that'll be followed up with action. So hopefully when the president visits, we can focus his attention -- the administration's, the state's attention -- on using Louisiana-based companies.
O'BRIEN: Seven-thousand businesses in the wake of Katrina have applied for Small Business Administration loans. Only 20 loans have been approved, totaling less than $1 million. And only $8,000 of that has been paid out. What's going on there? Is that pure bureaucracy?
JINDAL: Absolutely. Extremely frustrating. I'll give you some examples. They told some businesses it would take 90 days to process a loan. Well, if these businesses had 90 days, they might not need the help.
... If they wait too long, these businesses won't be there, and it won't make any difference. In 90 days, a lot of these guys will go bankrupt.
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