The front page of The Clarion-Ledger almost looked like a real newspaper today. The lead story is a combo wire/local effort about how FEMA is cancelling no-bid contracts. Of course, the Ledge doesn't mention that one of the debris-removal companies is an old client of Haley Barbour's, as reported by national media.
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 Thursday. "I've been a public servant for a long time, and I've never been a fan of no-bid contracts," 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 that you 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 millions of dollars.
Paulison said after the hearing that he did not have a total figure for no-bid contracts that have been given, but said they include four agreements for $100 million each for housing and construction services awarded immediately after the storm. 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. [...]
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.
Skinner 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.
Second District U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson, who wrote a letter to Skinner last week asking that he review how the contracts were awarded, said he welcomed Paulison's "commitment to reopen many of the contracts that were unfairly doled out after Hurricane Katrina."
"As demonstrated by numerous investigations during the past month, the contracting practices of FEMA, the Army Corps of Engineers and other federal entities have hurt small businesses in Mississippi and Louisiana," Thompson said.
"I urge Chief Paulison to assure that when contracts are open to bid that small and locally owned businesses in devastated areas are given priority treatment to rebuild their communities. It would be unfair for the administration to continue to let non-local companies stack the deck against businesses that are doing all they can to recover."
U.S. Sen. Trent Lott said he's acting as an ombudsman to make sure more Mississippi companies get contracts for rebuilding. "We're not going to be satisfied until that happens," he said.