John Stossel: Wal-Mart, Private Sector Moved Faster After Katrina Than FEMA

Rahim says that getting to those billions of tax dollars that government set aside for rebuilding was nearly impossible, so he gets money from individual donors, some of them tourists and passers-by.

He has a sign urging people to get out of their cars and lend a hand. They did, as did a number of celebrities.

"Brad Pitt has done more for this community than anyone," Rahim said.

Brad Pitt is doing more than the government of the United States?

"I would say 10 times more than the government," Rahim said.

Pitt founded non-profit group called Make it Right, which aims to build new, energy-efficient homes in the Ninth Ward. Some people doubted that Pitt would follow through, but with few delays, homes started going up. The first homes were finished this summer.

If Brad Pitt and Harry Connick, Jr. can work to build dozens of new homes, why does it take government so long to follow through on its plans? The New Orleans mayor said he has made it easier for people to rebuild their homes, making permits available online at kiosks throughout the city.

"We issued thousands and thousands of permits right after Katrina. So, we tried to get out of the way, and I think it paid off for us," Nagin said. "We have everything online, so you can go online, you can visit a kiosk."

Trying to Navigate Bureaucracy

"20/20" visited New Orleans' city hall to try the kiosks that are supposed to give information on permits and rebuilding. The first one didn't work. None of them did.

But there was a clerk, and she was eager to help.

"If you're doing new construction, you're going to need two sets of architectural plans with a live seal from a Louisiana registered architect or engineer," the clerk said.

"You'd also need a plot plan to make sure it meets the zoning requirements," she said, adding, "a construction benchmark which is a FEMA requirement, so that we know that the structure is built at the right height."

Then she went on to talk about the requirement form that FEMA has that lists the fee schedule and explains the permit and plan review fees.

It took more than 10 minutes for her just to explain the permits. Then came information about the forms needed to dispute the damage assessment.

Of the 314 public projects Mayor Nagin promoted in his "One New Orleans " rebuilding campaign, announced in January 2006, only six are complete.

Nagin blames other levels of government, including the Federal Emergency Management Administration, or FEMA, which he says only made substantial amounts of rebuilding money available to the city in February, 2008.

FEMA disputed that, saying the money had been available to the city for longer. Regional director Jim Stark said, "Mayor Nagin has had money to start his projects for at least two years."

This kind of government paralysis and finger pointing happens everywhere. Even the city that never sleeps hasn't been able to rebuild anything at Ground Zero after seven years. The lack of progress gave Nagin a good answer when a New York-based reporter gave him a hard time nearly a year after Katrina hit.

"You guys in New York City can't get a hole in the ground fixed," he quipped back in August 2006.

Seven years after 9/11, The World Trade Center site is still a hole in the ground and reconstruction is tied up in New York City politics. But right next door is 7 World Trade Center, a building also destroyed in the attacks, yet rebuilt quickly by a private company, Silverstein Properties.

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