A batch of lucrative federal contracts involving the maintenance and disposal of travel trailers along the Gulf Coast has been put on hold, and other contracts could be in jeopardy, after three companies that lost a rebidding process lodged formal protests with the Government Accountability Office, according to federal attorneys handling the complaints.
The Times Picayune, New Orleans, reported that the trio of protests, which the GAO must resolve within 100 calendar days, were filed in April, and since then turmoil has continued to engulf the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) contracting processes in the post-Katrina landscape.
On Thursday (May 4), a House committee in Washington delved into federal contracting and spending, while in recent weeks new questions have surfaced about whether some of the companies that won in the rebidding comply with FEMA’s explicit guidelines.
Overarching Thursday’s hearing and the intricacies of rebidding $3.6 billion in contracts for maintaining and disposing of thousands of travel trailers is the mounting anger among Louisiana and Mississippi companies that believe they have been excluded from the reconstruction work.
Although President Bush and FEMA insist they are trying to funnel more jobs and money to companies long based in the storm-tossed zones, the winning contract announcements trickling out of FEMA reflect a preponderance of out-of-state companies.
The newspaper reported that the most recent job at hand involves FEMA trying to break up four massive temporary housing contracts handed out as Katrina spent its fury on the Gulf Coast. The agency planned to divide the maintenance and disposal of tens of thousands of manufactured homes and trailers into 36 contracts of as much as $100 million each.
Of that total, 16 contracts were to be awarded in Louisiana – eight to small businesses and eight to minority or disadvantaged businesses – with preference given to local companies. The remaining 20 contracts were to be split among Mississippi, Alabama and Texas.
According to the newspaper, controversy has dogged the rebidding. The latest twist came Thursday when GAO attorneys said they were told by FEMA officials that work has been halted on the five contracts awarded to minority contractors in Mississippi. Federal regulations require suspension of work when a bid protest is made. However, the company making the Mississippi 8A complaint, Integrated Management Services, said it is unsure the work-suspension rule is being followed.
In addition, new questions emerged about some of the other winning companies, some of which the losing bidders said do not comply with explicit guidelines FEMA laid down during pre-bid conferences in New Orleans and elsewhere last year. In general, the questions concern the qualifications that companies were required to meet, as well as some of the winning bids themselves, which the losing companies regard as suspiciously low.
FEMA, which so far has refused to make public the specifics of the winning bids, did not reply to questions about its actions. In total, there are three separate complaints that have been lodged by losing companies: two in Mississippi, concerning both the small-business and 8A minority business portions of the work, and one in Louisiana regarding the eight contracts that were to go to small businesses.