- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 6, 2005

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Millions of dollars in federal contracts for Hurricane Katrina recovery efforts that were handed out with little or no competition will be rebid to prevent any waste or abuse, FEMA chief R. David Paulison said yesterday.

“I’ve been a public servant for a long time, and I’ve never been a fan of no-bid contracts,” Mr. Paulison told a Senate panel investigating the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s response to the hurricane. “Sometimes you have to do them because of the expediency of getting things done. And I can assure you that we are going to look at all of those contracts very carefully.”

“All of those no-bid contracts, we are going to go back and rebid,” he said of pacts that were worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

Mr. Paulison said after the hearing that he did not have a total figure for no-bid contracts that have been awarded, but said they include four agreements for $100 million each for housing and construction services awarded immediately after the storm struck. The government has been accused of overpaying for some contracts that were awarded with unusual haste in an effort to speed assistance to Katrina’s victims.

In the weeks after the storm, more than 80 percent of at least $1.5 billion in FEMA contracts were awarded with little or no competition, or had open-ended or vague terms that previous audits have cited as being highly prone to abuse.

The FEMA chief was one of a bevy of Bush administration officials appearing before a half-dozen hearings to update Congress about the government’s long- and short-term concerns in Katrina’s aftermath.

Inspector General Richard Skinner of the Department of Homeland Security told a House subcommittee that 90 percent of the contracts awarded for debris removal in Mississippi were not put out for competitive bids. He said the Army Corps of Engineers had four pre-existing contracts for debris removal, but those four could not handle the overwhelming devastation of the storm.

He said reviewing those no-bid contracts is “high on our priority list.”

Sen. Susan Collins, Maine Republican, said that hundreds of thousands of hurricane victims remain in hotel rooms and emergency shelters — despite more than $2 billion already spent by FEMA for 120,000 temporary trailers and mobile homes.

Only 109 Louisiana families have been put in those homes, while tens of thousands of state residents remain in shelters, she said.

FEMA estimates that just over 68,200 refugees remain in shelters, down from a high of 300,000 after Katrina hit Aug. 29 and Hurricane Rita’s Sept. 24 Gulf Coast arrival.

Last month, FEMA started a $2 billion program to pay three months of upfront rental costs for homeowners or renters whose residences were destroyed by Katrina. Eligible victims can receive $2,358 per family to rent anywhere in the country, and could continue to get assistance for up to 18 months as FEMA works with state and local authorities to rebuild the devastated communities.

So far, FEMA has spent $1.3 billion to help Katrina victims find homes, and 600,000 have registered for the rental program.

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