Administrators of the Rebuild Iowa Office appeared before a legislative panel this afternoon to defend their work and their actions. Critics complain the office is overstaffed and diverting resources that should be directed to the victims of the tornadoes and floods which swept through Iowa last year.

The Rebuild Iowa Office was opened last summer with a three-million dollar grant from the federal Economic Development Administration and Emily Hajek, chief of staff for the Rebuild Iowa Office, told legislators they cannot give that money directly to victims. "(The) Econonic Development Administration gave grants like this to other states who have recently experienced disasters, but Iowa’s was by far the largest they’ve ever done in a strategic planning grant so first and foremost the funds are for strategic planning and were never designed to be put out to the communities or individuals in any form," Hajek said. "They are strictly for the administration of a strategic plan."

Legislators of both political parties raised questions, though, about office operations. Representative Jeff Kaufmann, a Republican from Wilton, says there’s no way to justify the salaries being paid to Rebuild Iowa Office staff. "The lowest paid job in this new bureaucracy is $46,700,"Kaufmann says. "…Then I asked her: ‘What about a $19,000 bill for new carpet?’…She said (it was) because the lieutenant governor wanted to put new carpeting in."

Kaufmann says there are people in the tiny, Cedar River town of Rochester who could have repaired their entire flooded-out home with that amount of money. "Then I asked, ‘With all due respect, how do you expect me to sell that to my Rochester residents?’ No response," Kaufmann says. "I understand that it takes money to administer this, but there has to be some sensititivity to the people who are out of their homes. This is absolutely unacceptable."

Kaufmann says four people in the Rebuild Iowa Office are earning salaries of over $100,000. "This does nothing to reinforce the faith of Iowans in a bureaucracy, even bureaucracies that are helping victims of a flood," Kaufmann says.

The chairman of the House Rebuild Iowa Committee told the Rebuild Iowa Office chief of staff she is to reappear before the panel next week — for an hour — to answer more questions.