The Federal Emergency Management Agency, brushing aside objections from its staff, paid a Greenbelt firm $90,000 to produce a training manual after two influential Republicans contacted a top FEMA official on the firm's behalf.
The manual on how to deal with radiation accidents was withdrawn in November after experts from five other federal agencies warned that it was so zealous in protecting rescue workers that it could endanger the lives of victims. One FEMA employe warned in an internal memo that the manual, prepared by Bradford Communications Corp., "would be misleading to the public and a source of embarrassment" to FEMA.
The noncompetitive award was made in 1983 after D.C. Republican National Committeeman Michael D. Gill, a paid consultant to Bradford, discussed its proposal with Fred J. Villella, then FEMA's No. 3 official.
"There wasn't any pressure brought to bear," said Gill, who is a nephew of President Dwight D. Eisenhower and founder of a group that bought the former presidential yacht Sequoia. He said his role in two meetings with Villella was to "expedite" the contract.
Former Republican national chairman Richard Richards also called Villella at Gill's request. Richards said he had not read the Bradford proposal, received no fee and merely urged FEMA to make a decision.
A House Government Operations subcommittee on transportation, headed by Rep. Cardiss Collins (D-Ill.), is examining the Bradford award. A spokesman declined to discuss the probe but said hearings are planned.
Sources said the Justice Department also is investigating the Bradford award, as well as other contracts at the emergency and disaster planning agency.
Several companies say they were not given a fair chance to win the contract. When FEMA announced in September 1983 that it was looking for firms that could provide a hazardous-materials course, it gave potential bidders only four working days to respond.
Thirteen firms answered the announcement, but a week later a senior FEMA official disqualified the 12 others and selected Bradford for the contract. The others were not allowed to submit formal bids.
Duane Murray, FEMA's assistant associate director, said in an affidavit that "Mr. Villella insisted that a contract be award ed to the Bradford company . . . despite the negative recommendations of both his staff and an inter -agency committee on hazardous materials . . . ."
Murray said in the affidavit that Villella "told me that these people . . . were good Republicans," and that they had "promised" Villella and FEMA Director Louis O. Giuffrida "a ride on the ex-presidential yacht Sequoia if a contract was awarded."
Murray filed the affidavit last year after FEMA tried to transfer him to another job.
Villella said through his attorney that he "never insisted on the contract being awarded to Bradford" and did not recall the remark about good Republicans. Villella said he followed his staff's advice on the issue and that he did not evaluate the potential bidders.
Villella, who resigned last summer, said he saw Gill occasionally at political functions and went on Sequoia cruises once or twice at Gill's invitation. He said he kept Gill informed over a period of time when Gill asked about the proposal's status.
Gill, who handled the yacht's scheduling at the time, denied any connection between the Bradford contract and Villella "getting wined and dined on the Sequoia."
Gill said Bradford won the contract because the firm already had a hazardous-materials course written by two Virginia paramedics. He said the agency made a choice between "spending a ton of money and taking something that was already on the shelf."
Bradford President Robert J. Brady Jr. said the cancellation was "a major disappointment" because his company had made "an intense effort" to respond to FEMA's criticism of the booklet and slides.
"We made every change that was suggested," he said. "I'm not sure where it broke down . . . . It's really a damn shame."
Brady said that his firm had consulted "a whole raft of trade organizations" in revising the material and that he was never told that other federal agencies had strongly criticized it. Brady, a Democrat, said he encountered long delays in selling the package to FEMA and that Gill's only role was "getting it off the dime."
FEMA spokesman James L. Holton said the agency moved "in a hurry" because of a 1983 surge in nuclear waste shipments. "We recognized right from the beginning that Bradford was uniquely qualified to deliver this thing in a hurry," he said.
While many federal experts said the material called for what they termed needless delays in treating accident victims, Holton said that FEMA's main concern is to protect firefighters, its primary constituents. He said the agency disagrees with the criticism by "a bunch of experts . . . who wouldn't know a disaster from a hole in the ground."
In selecting Bradford, FEMA told the 12 other competitors that they were rejected in part because they could not do the job quickly enough. The agency's published announcement, however, said nothing about an imminent deadline.
An official at one of the firms, Rockwell International, which has its own nuclear training center, said she believed that the contract "was obviously wired for someone" because of FEMA's vague announcement and short deadline. "They did not give any details of what they wanted," she said.
Kelly King, an official at Syncor International, said the quick deadline meant that "there wasn't any possibility of bidding on it."
Bradford's material was hotly debated from the start. The booklet says officials responding to a nuclear waste spill should, before aiding a victim, don full protective clothing and a self-contained breathing apparatus; conduct a radiological survey of the area; secure the area with physical barriers; remove the victim from the area and decontaminate him by removing clothes and washing his body.
"By then the guy is dead," said one federal official.
FEMA official Frank C. Sidella, who chaired an interagency committee on radiation matters, warned of the potential for embarrassment in an August 1983 memo.
Sidella said the material "will cause undue (life-threatening) delays in providing medical treatment to an injured person . . . and clearly is not oriented toward saving lives . . . . In fact, the procedures recommended in the texts are likely to increase radiation and trauma injury to the victim."
The FEMA project officer for Bradford's unsolicited proposal was taken off the case after he criticized the firm's material. He was replaced by his supervisor, Bruce Marshall, then acting technical director of FEMA's emergency institute.
Marshall ruled that Bradford had "unique capabilities and resources" and disqualified the 12 other potential bidders.
Other members of the interagency panel sharply criticized the Bradford material both before and after the contract was awarded. Some members said the booklet was unnecessary because FEMA was spending $540,000 on two similar studies.