This fact sheet is compiled from the August 2006 report Big, Easy Money: Disaster Profiteering on the American Gulf Coast by Rita J. King.
The hurricanes that devastated the Gulf Coast in 2005 created a situation ripe for exploitation by corporations, a "free-for-all" maintained by government incompetence and corruption, especially by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
Amount appropriated by Congress for hurricane relief: $85 billion
Amount received by FEMA’s Disaster Relief Fund: $38 billion
Amount granted by FEMA in contracts so far: $6 billion
Contracts for small businesses made up only 13% of the net worth of all contracts granted by FEMA, and only 1.5% of all contracts went to minority-owned businesses. Only 16.6% of all contracts have been awarded to businesses headquartered in the three worst-hit states. Meanwhile, firms from Virginia alone have laid claim to more than 30% of FEMA’s largesse (again, in dollar value)
For example, the Department of Homeland Services (DHS) has paid out a combined worth
of $3.4 billion to four companies, mostly for housing, or more than
double their original value. The companies are Bechtel, CH2M Hill,
Fluor and Shaw.
Under “Operation Blue Roof" these companies got almost $2,500 for each blue tarpaulin
used to cover storm-damaged roofs in the worst-hit areas from FEMA — almost
enough to pay for a new roof in many cases (and the tarps were only
designed to last 3 months). The workers who actually tacked the tarp
onto the roof (a two-hour job) were probably making closer to minimum
Disaster profiteers in the Gulf Coast have used their friends in high places to secure uncompetitive contracts, and continue to try to evade responsibility for shoddy work and overcharge the federal government by millions of dollars. These are some of the worst corporate offenders (many of which first landed military contracts in Iraq):
Akima Site Operations
The Army Corps of Engineers awarded Alaska-based Akima a $39.5
million no-bid contract for providing portable classrooms. Local
businessman Paul Adams of Adams Home Center, said he submitted a bid at
half the price but was rejected.
Contracts totaling $1.7 billion were awarded to Americold,
which provides ice and cold storage facilities, thanks to another
former FEMA director-turned-lobbyist, James Witt. One of these was to
deliver ice, a container of which moved from location to location by
truck, for over 1600 miles before melting, unused.
AshBritt landed a $500 million contract for debris removal, with the help of the former head of the Army Corps of Engineers, lobbyists with close ties to Republicans, and Florida governor Jeb Bush. But the Army Corps was so disappointed with AshBritt’s performance that it threatened to terminate the contract.
AshBritt’s $500 million contract for debris removal amounted to about
$23 for every cubic yard of debris removed. AshBritt in turn hired
C&B Enterprises, which was paid $9 per cubic yard. That company
hired Amlee Transportation, which was paid $8 per cubic yard. Amlee
hired Chris Hessler for $7 per cubic yard. Hessler, in turn, hired Les
Nirdlinger, a debris hauler from New Jersey, who was paid $3 per cubic
This private security contractor,
provided protection to FEMA employees arriving in the flooded city at a
cost of $950 per guard per day.
Carnival Cruise Line
This company rented three ships to FEMA for $236 million for six months, which works out at $1,275 a week per evacuee. By comparison, the company sells cruise deals for $599 per person per week including entertainment. The ships were half empty most of the time, so the real cost was probably closer to $2,500 per person. Given that they were moored in one place and neither entertainment nor food was provided, the company must have cleared a nice profit.
Meanwhile the nation of Greece offered the use of ships for free. The Carnival Cruise Line proposal was promoted by the president's brother Jeb Bush.
The City of New Orleans initially awarded C2HM Hill a $23
million contract to remove flooded cars, despite receiving lower bids
from local firms. The contract was rescinded after mounting criticism.
Along with Fluor, Shaw, and Bechtel, the company was the first to be
awarded about $400 million (initially) in no-bid contracts to provide
temporary housing following the hurricanes. All the companies are
donors to the Republican party and are major contractors in Iraq
Clearbrook billed FEMA $5 million dollars before the start of
an $80 million contract to build camps for emergency personnel—plus
another $3 million in overcharges
Emergency Disaster Services (EDS)
EDS won a $3.6 million FEMA contract for 30 days for providing
meals to 200 to 400 emergency personnel—at the dubious cost of between
$100 and $279 per meal
Entergy is threatening to cut off gas and electricity to New
Orleans unless the federal government grants it $718 million to
maintain and rebuild its damaged infrastructure. Otherwise the company
says it will have to charge the average ratepayer $8,943 in the form of
a rate increase of at least 140 percent, or $45-a-month increase per
Meanwhile the company's parent earned up $10 billion in revenues last
year and has $29 billion in collective assets. Its 2005 profits of
$923.8 million alone could easily have covered the shortfall in New
Even though Fluor had a history of over-billing the federal
government, FEMA awarded around $1.3 billion in contracts for temporary
housing and other services. This was achieved in part by exploiting
federal law intended to set aside contracts for minority-owned
Kellogg, Brown & Root (KBR), a subsidiary of Halliburton
KBR’s $30 million naval contract for repairing military bases was
secured with the help of the same lobbyist that got the Shaw Group’s
foot in the door.
KBR subcontracted with a company called Tipton
Friendly Rollins that sub-contracted the work to Kansas City Tree, who
sub-contracted the work to Karen Tovar Construction, who did not pay
their workers. It took a lawsuit by Mississippi Immigrant Workers
Alliance to get them their back pay: $141,000. By that time it was too
late, as Karen Tovar had threatened the undocumented workers with jail,
so many of them had fled.
Kenyon, a subsidiary of Service Corporation International (SCI)
Kenyon, a funeral-services firm headed by a close family friend of
the Bush clan, recovered 535 bodies in New Orleans, but billed the
government over $6 million—or about $12,500 per victim. Local black
morticians volunteered their services to help in recovery and
processing of bodies, but were turned away by FEMA. Kenyon billed the
state thousands of dollars for beef jerky, a DVD player, and model
cars, to entertain its staff.
In St. Bernard Parish, home to multiple oil
refineries and power plants, an estimated million gallons of oil
saturated the parish post-Katrina from 44 spills. The worst was Murphy
Oil’s Meraux refinery, a 100,000 barrel a day facility. Katrina knocked
over a 250,000 gallon above-ground tank, sending an oily, muddy slick
through the parish. Soil samples taken by the Louisiana Bucket Brigade
show the presence of arsenic, heavy metals, pesticides, diesel, benzene
and other toxic compounds.
It will cost Murphy $70 million to clean up the six miles of coastline
sullied by the Meraux accident. The company has paid $30,000 per home
in settlements with some homeowners; others are embroiled in a lawsuit
with the company.
A total of $600 million in no-bid
contracts were secured for the Shaw Group with the help of a lobbyist
who was President Bush’s former campaign manager and later the head of
United Recovery Group (URG)
FEMA initially contacted URG without a competitive bid system, but ended up awarding URG a competitively bid contract for $369.7 million. However, a local company insists that its own bid was $137 million lower
Waste Management Inc. (WMI)
The Vietnamese community in New Orleans East once known as Versailles (for the nearby housing project) has re-opened 45 of 53 of its businesses. Ninety-five percent of the homes have been cleaned up. Unfortunately they live next to the Chef Menteur dump site owned and operated by Waste Management Incorporated (WMI). Debris haulers may “tip” their load into the landfill for $5 a cubic yard. With between 7,000 and 9,000 yards being hauled into the 87 acre facility each day, WMI is earning between $35,000 and $45,000 daily in tipping fees.
Click here for the press release, to see key findings, read the text version or to download the report.