FEMA Mismanaged Katrina Recovery Effort, GAO Says

Jeramicheal Varnado carries ice from a truck in Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina. Poor coordination between the Federal Emergency Management Agency and its contractors cost millions of dollars, a government audit says.
Jeramicheal Varnado carries ice from a truck in Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina. Poor coordination between the Federal Emergency Management Agency and its contractors cost millions of dollars, a government audit says. (By Aaron Rhoads -- The Enterprise-jounral Via Associated Press)

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By Hope Yen
Associated Press
Friday, March 17, 2006

The government wasted millions of dollars in its award of post-Katrina contracts for disaster relief, including at least $3 million for 4,000 beds that were never used, federal auditors said yesterday.

The Government Accountability Office's review of 13 major contracts -- many of them awarded with limited or no competition after the Aug. 29 storm -- offers the first preliminary overview of their soundness. Waste and mismanagement were widespread due to poor planning and miscommunication, according to the five-page briefing paper. That led to the Federal Emergency Management Agency's paying for services, such as housing or ice, that were never used.

"The government's response to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita depended heavily on contractors to deliver ice, water and food supplies; patch rooftops; and provide housing to displaced residents," said the report by Congress's auditing arm. "FEMA did not adequately anticipate needs."

Nicol Andrews, a spokeswoman for FEMA, said the agency is working hard to improve its awarding of billions of dollars of government contracts as it prepares for the next hurricane season. "We have been working with [Homeland Security] Secretary [Michael] Chertoff to incorporate unprecedented levels of oversight in FEMA contracting," she said. "However, in the event of a disaster when minutes count, we have the authority to do what it takes to move quickly."

By and large, the initial criticism of FEMA, from members of Congress and others, was that the agency moved too slowly to assist hurricane victims.

Of more than 700 contracts valued at $500,000 or greater, more than half were awarded without competition or with open-ended terms.

The GAO paper does not address the validity of no-bid contracts. Those reviews are underway by inspectors general at the Homeland Security Department and other agencies.

But it found significant problems in its general review of the 13 contracts, most of which were awarded without full competition. Millions of dollars could have been saved if agencies had hired more personnel, prearranged contracts and had better-trained staff, the paper said.

Among the findings:

· Nonexistent communication with local officials led to misjudgments on the need for temporary housing. They included $3 million that FEMA spent for 4,000 base camp beds that were never used and $10 million to renovate and furnish 240 rooms in Alabama, which housed only six occupants before being closed.

· Poor coordination between FEMA and the Army Corps of Engineers contributed to waste in an Americold Logistics LLC contract for ice. "The local Corps personnel were not always aware of where ice might be delivered and did not have authority . . . resulting in inefficient distribution," it said.

· Inadequate planning led to the award of a Mississippi contract for classrooms without competition. "Information in the contract files suggests the negotiated prices were inflated," the report said. A review of that specific contract, with Akima Site Operations LLC, was continuing.

· FEMA had only 17 of the 27 monitors it deemed necessary to oversee the installation of temporary housing in four states, leading to inadequate controls.


© 2006 The Washington Post Company

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