- The Washington Times - Monday, September 24, 2018

In response to a request from nearly a dozen Democratic elected officials, the Inspector General at Homeland Security will conduct an audit of cleanup and debris removal contracts signed by Gov. Rick Scott’s administration after Hurricane Irma last year.

A category 4 storm when it slammed ashore in Florida in August 2017, Irma was responsible for nearly $65 billion in estimated damages. Although Mr. Scott, a Republican, has been widely praised for his handling of the crisis, a CBS Miami investigation concluded his administration had disregarded contracts in place for post-storm cleanups and instead issued emergency contracts that cost taxpayers between $28 and $30 million more than necessary.

Mr. Scott is now engaged in a tight race as he seeks to unseat incumbent Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, whose campaign seized on the inspector general’s announcement of the audit Monday.

In a July 18 letter to acting Inspector General John Kelly at Homeland Security, 11 of Florida’s Democratic representatives expressed concerns that “tens of millions of federal taxpayer dollars are being squandered as a result of exorbitant price gouging orchestrated by the governor of the state of Florida in an inept and possibly corrupt procurement of debris removal services following Hurricane Irma.”

In particular, the Democrats asked the IG to focus on contracts in Monroe County, which stretches across Florida’s southern tip and includes the Key Islands.

Mr. Kelly replied on Sept. 20, informing the Democratic delegation that the department already had two audits of the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s response to Irma, including their oversight and letting of debris removal contracts. Often in the cleanup after major storms, those contracts prove extremely costly to taxpayers as they involve layers of subcontractors that balloon prices.

In addition to those, however, Mr. Kelly wrote that “we also intend to initiate an audit regarding the specific issues you have raised with respect to the contracts in Monroe County.”

The Scott campaign referred a request for comment to the governor’s office, which did not respond.

Republicans dismissed the complaint as a political stunt.

“Governor Scott fought against special interests who were not showing up to honor their pre-storm agreements following Hurricane Irma, saving taxpayers millions of dollars,” said Taryn Fenske, a Republican National Committee spokesperson. “This is just a political stunt from Florida Democrats during an election year – instead they should be focused on Bill Nelson’s lack of leadership during his half century in office.”

Mr. Nelson’s campaign has worked throughout the summer to make the cleanup contracts a bigger issue in the campaign, which is currently regarded as a toss-up by professional political oddsmakers. The Nelson campaign, which has hoarded its money for most of the year, launched a statewide ad on this topic in August.

• James Varney can be reached at jvarney@washingtontimes.com.

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