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Editorial: Keep a careful eye on Sandy billions

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and Nassau County Executive

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano tour Long Beach in 2012 after superstorm Sandy. Credit: Howard Schnapp

After the winds and water of a storm as severe as Sandy recede, federal money generally flows in. Trying to make sure that money is spent responsibly can be as tricky as the storm recovery itself.

As of last month, Long Island had received $474 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to address Sandy damage. Sunday's Newsday news story on the aid found that some money seems to have been spent in silly, but not sinister ways, including Nassau County's $7,159 for 63 pairs of waterproof pants and 21 fancy jackets. The clothing went to police and county executive personnel, and in some cases (like that of County Executive Edward Mangano), were monogrammed. Some wages paid to workers seem high, and some technology purchases have a certain "if it's federal, it's free" flavor, but few cases of blatantly irresponsible spending surfaced.

Approximately $51 billion is earmarked by the federal government for Sandy aid in New York and elsewhere. Of that, about $16 billion will go to community block grants for individual victims and Sandy-related infrastructure projects. But big pots of money can cause big problems.

Federal investigators said last year that as much as $700 million in federal aid intended to help Louisiana families raise their houses after 2005's Hurricane Katrina may have been misspent, and that's just the latest in a string of such reports. The warning should be clear.

Overseeing the Katrina aid has been so problematic that the fallout has led to much tighter oversight rules for the Sandy money. Hopefully that will be enough to keep everybody honest, and sensible.

The big money, the billions to repair and improve infrastructure all over the Island, hasn't been spent yet. Those contracts and the quality of the work done must receive constant scrutiny, because big money means big temptations, and Long Island can't afford incompetence or chicanery in addressing them.