“We’ll make sure your money is being spent wisely. And we're going to make sure that the money is spent honestly."
As we inch closer to Katrina’s 1 year anniversary, the neverending story of how badly this government screwed up flows onward.
The title of this post are the words of President Bush from almost a year ago, at the Republican Jewish Coalition’s 20th Anniversary. Well, other folks are saying that his quote might not be so accurate. Today, House Democrats released a report on just how bad the process of awarding post Katrina contract has been. How bad, do you ask?
* Full and Open Competition is the Exception, Not the Rule. As of June 30, 2006, over $10.6 billion has been awarded to private contractors for Gulf Coast recovery and reconstruction. Nearly all of this amount ($10.1 billion) was awarded in 1,237 contracts valued at $500,000 or more. Only 30% of these contracts were awarded with full and open competition.
* Contract Mismanagement Is Widespread. Hurricane Katrina contracts have been accompanied by pervasive mismanagement. Mistakes were made in virtually every step of the contracting process: from pre-contract planning through contract award and oversight. Compounding this problem, there were not enough trained contract officials to oversee contract spending in the Gulf Coast.
* The Costs to the Taxpayer Are Enormous. This report identifies 19 Katrina contracts collectively worth $8.75 billion that have been plagued by waste, fraud, abuse, or mismanagement. In the case of each of these 19 contracts, reports from the Government Accountability Office, Pentagon auditors, agency inspectors general, or other government investigators have linked the contracts to major problems in administration or performance.
70 percent of the contracts were awarded with an open and competitive bid process. What continues to infuriate me about this whole process is that while contractors such as Bechtel and Halliburton were given free reign to do what they please, Bush suspended the Davis Bacon act, a federal law that establishes pay standards and requires that federal contracts pay workers the average wage standard or prevailing wage of the region. I remember this well, in part because I gave a post Yom Kippur Dvar Torah at Kol Zimrah which focused on the Haftarah of Yom Kippur Morning, Isaiah 57:14 – 58:14, particularly on 58 verse 3, which roughly translated is: “Why, when we fasted, did You not see? When we starved our bodies, did You pay no heed?” Because on your fast day You see to your business And oppress all your laborers!
How the President could justify cutting the wages of the people trying to rebuild their own homes was beyond me. Well, I mean, I could believe it, but I could not understand it. How can anyone justify no bid federal contracts where wage standards aren’t protected? I might have even been a little more understanding of the no bids if government was at least guaranteeing that Gulf area residents would be making a decent living putting the pieces of their shattered lives back together. But non competitive contracts, enormous mistakes and carelessness when it comes to oversight, and 19 contracts that make up 8.75 billion dollars are plagued by “waste, fraud, abuse, or mismanagement.” Oh, and 8.75 billion is nearly 90 percent of the federal money that’s gone to private contractors. But Bush was worried about the impact construction worker wages will have on the recovery efforts?
Of course, in all of this, there’s the focus on the small potatoes.
Four people have been indicted on charges of falsifying records of debris cleanup from Hurricane Katrina and billing the federal government more than $700,000 for work they didn’t do.
700,000 dollars? All the mismanagement problems, and going after four folks who pinched less than one tenth of one percent of the money out there? I bet they just haven’t bundled enough max contributions to the ’00 or ’04 Bush/Cheney campaigns. This is not to say they shouldn’t get what’s coming to them, but in a hugely not-managed program of nearly 11 billion dollars, stealing 700 hundred thousand seems like a misdemeanor to what will be uncovered eventually.
On the other hand, Shaw Environmental & Infrastructure, Bechtel National, CH2M Hill Inc. and Fluor Enterprises Inc, who were previously criticized by lawmakers for receiving no-bid contracts, and all but Shaw have already been found to have wasted money in Katrina relief, these four companies have already received 400 million dollars in future contracts for temporary housing in disaster scenerios. Shaw’s lobbyist is former FEMA director and Bush buddy Joe Allabaugh, CEO Riley Bechtel served on Bush’s Export Council, and the other two have done a bunch of work already for this government.
So as we enter Elul, I hope President Bush thinks about the sins of Katrina, both known and unknown. I hope he and all those responsible for the complete failure in response to the needs of those who’s lives were devastated a year ago will hear and act upon what millions of Jews will read on Yom Kippur morning: (Isaiah 58: 3-7)
“Why, when we fasted, did You not see? When we starved our bodies, did You pay no heed?” Because on your fast day You see to your business And oppress all your laborers! 4 Because you fast in strife and contention, And you strike with a wicked fist! your fasting today is not such As to make your voice heard on high. 5 Is such the fast I desire, A day for men to starve their bodies? Is it bowing the head like a bulrush And lying in sackcloth and ashes? Do you call that a fast, A day when the Lord is favorable? 6 No, this is the fast I desire: To unlock the fetters of wickedness, And untie the cords of the yoke To let the oppressed go free; To break off every yoke. 7 It is to share your bread with the hungry, And to take the wretched poor into your home; When you see the naked, to clothe him, And not to ignore your own kin.