USM officials respond to auditors claims - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

USM officials respond to auditors claims

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LONG BEACH, MS (WLOX) -

A federal auditor says the University of Southern Mississippi Gulf Coast misused more than $5 million from FEMA for Hurricane Katrina aid. Now the auditor is suggesting that FEMA demand the university return that money.  

The Department of Homeland Security's Inspector General reviewed funds the campus received for rebuilding after Hurricane Katrina.  

"The office of the inspector general goes by the absolute policy, the way it was written before Hurricane Katrina ever hit. Obviously those policies didn't take into account the devastation that we would suffer and the conditions of which we would find ourselves following the storm," USM Gulf Park Vice President, Dr. Frances Lucas said.  

In the report, the auditor says a portion of that money shouldn't have been given to the campus because the university got another agency to cover those costs. Dr. Lucas agrees that some spending immediately following the storm didn't follow federal guidelines on bids, but says taking proper bids at that time was nearly impossible.  

"Most of the time we followed them absolutely the way we should have. We followed all the regulations, but just after the storm there was no electricity, no computers. Contractors were gone. Our jobs were to secure the buildings and keep them safe so we found the best contractors we could find who were still available. To come in and help us secure the buildings," Lucas said.  

The USM campus took a pretty heavy blow from Hurricane Katrina, but has obviously bounced back. Campus officials say they believe they've spent the money responsibly. Therefore they're not worried.  

"The process from here is we have submitted our report to MEMA. MEMA takes a week and looks at it and then they give it to FEMA. Then FEMA determines if all the work we've done over the last seven and a half years, upon which FEMA has already agreed that these are the appropriate dollars spent. They decide if they want to re verify their decisions that they have already made. They determine whether or not they will do that. We believe that they will reaffirm the decisions that FEMA has already made," Lucas said.  

Lucas said the main issue was documentation. She said campus leaders believe they documented everything very well, but the Federal Office wants even more documentation.  

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