Portions of four major emergency housing contracts awarded after Hurricane Katrina are being re-bid to smaller, local companies in the Gulf Coast, the chief of the nation's disaster agency says.
That will ensure that at least $1.5 billion in federal contracts are awarded competitively, said R. David Paulison, acting director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
"I promised Congress I was going to bid them out, and that's what I'm doing," Paulison said Wednesday in a brief interview with The Associated Press.
Paulison's comments seemed to differ from remarks made days ago by Michael Widomski, a FEMA spokesman. He said the contracts wouldn't be re-bid for Katrina work and in fact have been extended, in part because of good performance.
"They are continuing the work," Widomski said in an interview. He said the agency is now focused on competitive bids for disaster relief contracts for the next hurricane season beginning June 1.
Widomski said FEMA now will allow the four major firms to complete their Katrina work. FEMA, meanwhile, has posted advertisements for multiyear contracts for relief work in coming hurricane seasons, with awards expected by June.
Paulison's remarks also seemed at odds with FEMA promises last October to set aside up to $1.5 billion in additional work -- apart from the four no-bid contracts -- to maintain trailers of housing Katrina evacuees. This was designed to boost the number of contracts given to small, minority businesses, and Widomski said the agency hoped to announce the winners of those contracts in the next few days.
Paulison said FEMA plans to honor parts of the four no-bid contracts -- Shaw Group Inc., Bechtel Corp., CH2M Hill Inc. and Fluor Corp. -- for work already completed. Those contracts were worth up to $500 million each.
"You can't change those contracts midstream," he said. "You can't stop work. But the rest of it is for Katrina, is already bid out and we'll be awarding those contacts shortly, and they're all going to small businesses."
Last fall, the government was accused of overpaying for some contracts that were awarded with unusual haste in an effort to speed assistance to Katrina's victims. In October, Paulison told a Senate panel that "all of those no-bid contracts, we are going to go back and re-bid."
The four firms are expected to compete for work in the upcoming hurricane season, Paulison said. Those bids will be awarded by midsummer, he said.
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