- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 17, 2003

The General Accounting Office says in a new report that the anthrax cleanup at the Hart Senate Office Building last year suffered from “inconsistencies” in monitoring the work and payment of contractors.

“They were operating a 24/7 operation, and their goal was to get the senators back in their offices as soon as possible,” said John Stephenson, the GAO’s team leader for the report. “We didn’t find any evidence that they did anything wrong, just that they could have had better oversight had they had more time.”

The GAO recommends that the Environmental Protection Agency use a uniform system for tracking costs and performance of toxic-cleanup contractors, rather than a patchwork of different systems.

The Hart building was contaminated in October 2001 when someone sent deadly anthrax spores in envelopes mailed to Capitol Hill offices. The office of Sen. Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat and minority leader, appeared to be the prime target.

No one died at the Hart building, but it was evacuated for three months during the cleanup, which started in November 2001.

Postal workers who handled the envelopes at the Brentwood mail distribution center in Northeast were less lucky. Two of them died and dozens claim they were sickened by anthrax.

The Brentwood facility remains closed while cleanup continues. The GAO, the investigative arm of Congress, says lessons learned from the Hart building are helping with the Brentwood cleanup.

The EPA spent $27 million from its Superfund program on the Capitol Hill anthrax cleanup. The agency originally estimated the cleanup would cost $5 million.

Costs escalated “as the nature and extent of the contamination became fully known and the solutions to remove and properly dispose of anthrax were agreed upon and carried out,” the GAO said.

Sen. Charles Grassley, Iowa Republican, requested the GAO audit.

“If EPA doesn’t track the money well enough, taxpayers will never know whether they got the best deal or not,” Mr. Grassley said in a statement.

The EPA drew staff from its nationwide network to help with the cleanup. Each of the EPA’s nine regions uses slightly different methods to monitor environmental cleanups, resulting in inconsistencies, the GAO said.

All EPA personnel used the agency’s computerized Removal Cost Management System to monitor contract costs. But some used it to assess performance of contractors who removed the toxins. Others used the system to determine whether contractors who sampled the air did their jobs adequately.

The EPA assigned 50 staffers to monitor the contractors’ work.

Another problem arose when contractors sent toxin-removal technical specialists. Often, they couldn’t explain the costs to the EPA for each phase of the cleanup.

The GAO also raised questions about the fact that 15 contracts, worth a total of $4 million, were awarded without competitive bids. Instead, contractors were paid under the General Services Administration’s supply schedule for vendor fees.

The largest competitive contracts went to IT Corp. for removal of anthrax and to Pasadena, Calif.-based Tetra Tech Inc. for sampling of contaminated sites and decontamination plans. IT Corp. was paid about $4 million. Tetra Tech was paid $4.4 million.

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