FEMA relief contracts to be re-bid


WASHINGTON -- The government is reopening federal contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars handed out with little or no competition in the relief and reconstruction efforts after Hurricane Katrina, FEMA Director R. David Paulison told a congressional committee yesterday.

"All of those no-bid contracts, we are going to go back and re-bid. We're in the process of re-bidding them already," Paulison said in his first public testimony since succeeding Michael D. Brown as Federal Emergency Management Agency chief three weeks ago.

Paulison's announcement came as senators warned him that the agency must move quickly to rebuild the public's confidence after its much-criticized initial response to the hurricane.

Paulison made two appearances on Capitol Hill as half a dozen congressional committees held hearings on the hurricane and lawmakers continued to wrangle over what role the federal government should play in the recovery and how it should pay the multibillion-dollar costs.

"I've been a public servant for a long time, and I've never been a fan of no-bid contracts," he told the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. The panel is responsible for oversight of the Department of Homeland Security, which includes FEMA, and for the Senate's investigation into the government's response to the hurricane.

After the hearing, Paulison told reporters he had no total figure for how many contracts had been awarded with little or no bidding. But he said four agreements for $100 million each for construction and housing were included.

Senators expressed concern about FEMA's failure to reunite some families separated by the storm, its inability to provide one-stop service to storm victims and reports that it has overpaid for some services and supplies.

Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut, the senior Democrat on the panel, said FEMA should have stockpiled supplies before the storm hit through contracts that "would have been, presumably, at more competitive prices."

The FEMA head also took criticism for the agency's decision to rent cruise ships to house recovery workers and some of those left homeless by the hurricane. "We know that people need to be housed, but you spent a quarter of a billion dollars on cruise ships," said Sen. Norm Coleman, a Minnesota Republican.

Paulison described use of the ships as an important piece of FEMA's effort to house 400,000 to 600,000 people. The cruise ships, he said, are "almost completely full," housing mostly federal workers at a daily cost of $168 each. That price, he said, is "becoming very cost-effective."

Mary Curtius and Joel Havemann write for the Los Angeles Times.

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