Transparency is what FEMA officials publicly proclaim they desire regarding its Superstorm Sandy claims processes. They need to do a better job of getting that message out to their attorneys as evidenced in the post, WYO’s Want Release From Criminal Liability and WYO Attorneys Warned of Sanctions. They need to get that message out to their WYO partners as evidenced by a WYO company invoking the Fifth Amendment as discussed in Insurance Executive Pleads Fifth Over Altered Reports During Superstorm Sandy Hearing. They need to get the message out to the vendors who make critical opinions about loss and damage as evidenced in Authorities Raid New York Engineering Over Superstorm Sandy Fraud. Finally, those officials need to emphasize the necessity for honesty and transparency by those working in Washington as evidenced by a lawsuit filed yesterday against FEMA by United Policyholders.

United Policyholders sued FEMA because it failed to respond to requests about public records regarding Superstorm Sandy claims handling. I know a little bit about this story and what lead to the lawsuit.

Amy Bach is the Executive Director of United Policyholders. She asked me last year if FEMA’s appeal process actually resulted in any successful results for National Flood policyholders. I told her that I won the only one that I made for a client over a coverage issue, but everybody else had lost every time. I told her that I told my attorneys that appealing over scope and price of flood damage was a waste of time. Every policyholder attorney told me the same thing.

In response, United Policyholders made Freedom of Information Act requests for public documents concerning the appeals program and processes as indicated in the lawsuit pleadings:

By letter dated September 18, 2014, UP requested access to records maintained by FEMA regarding the appeal process for NFIP claims, the total number of appeals received or processed by the NFIP since October 2012, and internal guidance on claims pertaining to the NFIP (“FOIA Request”)…

… In its September 18, 2014 letter, UP noted that FEMA had identified “2,647 properly filed appeals since October 2012” in response to a prior, related FOIA request by UP. However, FEMA did not produce any records pertaining to those appeals. UP’s September 18, 2014 letter specifically states that the 2,647 appeal records are responsive to the requests made in that letter and seeks, inter alia, disclosure of those records.

… As of the date of this action, UP has not received any further correspondence or determination on its FOIA Request from Defendant, despite the expiration of the statutory deadline months ago.

It is almost as if FEMA is addicted to non-disclosure of what and how it goes about making decisions on claims. When anybody asks for its officials or attorneys to show the crucial documents about any specific claim or those that would explain a claims process, they evade and do not disclose.

When I asked Amy Bach why United Policyholders filed a lawsuit, she gave a very simple explanation:

“We filed a series of FOIA requests; they blew us off, gave us nothing.”

I guess the silver lining to this most recent revelation of non-disclosure is that FEMA did not send her a bunch of altered documents or ask her to enter into an agreement to not share her findings with other government investigators.

To be fair, some of the National Flood programs claims bulletins have excellent discussions about how to adjust property claims. I also know a couple of excellent experienced claims managers in the National Flood Program that have provided excellent points of adjustment, if only the WYO carriers would listen. But, when crucial documents which evidence wrongful conduct are withheld and attorneys are evading turning them over or keeping those with them silent, there is a significant problem of leadership.

Positive Thought for the Day

“Honesty is the first chapter of the book wisdom.” 
      –Thomas Jefferson