Common Cause Urges More Accountability in FEMA Contracting Process

Reopening Contracts Falls Short of Needed Transparency

Washington, DC – Today, Common Cause President and CEO Chellie Pingree faulted the Federal Emergency Management Agency for not taking concrete steps to ensure that taxpayer funds are not wasted in federally funded hurricane relief efforts. Pingree’s statement was made in reaction to news accounts that FEMA Acting Director R. David Paulison promised to reopen no-bid contracts for Katrina- elated work. Paulison’s statement, Pingree said, does not address systemic problems in the contracting process and a lack of accountability at FEMA.

“There have been a number of very damning stories reported by the press about how taxpayer dollars are being misspent – such as the Carnival Cruise debacle and the overcharges associated with Operation Blue Roof,” Pingree said. “But each of these stories came to light because whistleblowers leaked the problems or enterprising reporters went to extreme measures to complete their investigations. Clearly our system of oversight is broken.”

“Relying on whistleblowers who risk their jobs to expose government waste is hardly the way to conduct oversight. We need a transparent government contracting system available to the public, which will show in a comprehensive, timely and accurate manner what kind of contracts are being awarded, for how much, and to whom. Furthermore, we need complete reform of our government contracting processes. The government should open its business to any qualified and responsible contractor, not just the chosen few who have the right connections.”

FEMA’s Paulison promised Senators at a Finance Committee hearing yesterday that all of the no-bid contracts associated with Katrina would be reopened. The government has been accused of overpaying for some contracts that were awarded to assist in Katrina clean up and recovery. In one often-cited example, the government awarded Carnival Cruise a $236 million deal to provide temporary housing on the Mississippi River and off of the Gulf Coast. According to Congressional investigators, the cost per person is $1,275 a week, nearly twice the typical cost of a weeklong cruise for a typical passenger.

Another highly criticized contract has been Operation Blue Roof. According to Knight-Ridder, the government has hired several contractors to nail down large blue tarpaulins on top of the wind-damaged roofs of gulf state residents in order to prevent further weather damage. The government is paying contractors an average of $2,480 for fewer than two hours of work to cover each damaged roof – even though it is also giving them free supplies. Local contractors have told the press that they would charge $300 to tarp a 2,000-square-foot roof – a fraction of what the government is currently paying.

Common Cause, the citizen advocacy organization with over 300,000 members, has been monitoring the government’s response to Katrina relief efforts as part of its “Eye on the Gulf” campaign.