Tuesday, November 01, 2005

No-bid Contracts, The Blame Game and The K Street Project on Steroids

The following was submitted to another site on October 18,2005 with the following note:
If you print ths please note that I am one of those laid-off city workers.  With my limited computer access (since Katrina) I couldn't find an article that clarified whether the $1.6 billion figure counted each of the four contracts at 100 million, the ceiling on each or whether it included the roughly $130 million that all four contracts together totaled.  The wording seemed deliberately vague.

Everyone is aware that the federal government has been criticized for its insistence on strict repayment terms on loans to local governments devastated by Katrina and for its awarding of no-bid contracts.  Yet no one seems to have noticed that the Republicans have answered this criticism with a resumption of the blame game that they profess to hate.   Since it would be impossible for La. officials to ask for help while responding to attacks, the Republicans feel safe engaging in this finger pointing.  Space doesn't permit a detailed discussion of responsibility, but the fact that one of the first actions of the Bush administration (after Katrina) was to plant a false story about the Blanco administration in the Washington Post should itself raise questions.  The fact that, six weeks later, DHS still had problems communicating with a local government (this time about the New York subway terror threat) should also raise questions.

 Since administration hopes that Texas would make Louisiana look bad got stuck in traffic, it seems that every Republican in congress feels the need to talk about the corruption and incompetence of Louisiana officials.  On October 4th, Chris Shays went on Scarborough Country to blame all (every single one) of the problems at the Superdome on Mayor Nagin and then segue into not trusting New Orleans with any of the reconstruction money.  Tom Tancredo has joined in, urging his colleagues not to let Louisiana politicians "get their hands on" any of the money because of their  "mind-boggling incompetence" in dealing with the storm. 

Well, it wasn't the state that awarded no-bid contracts to politically connected firms first and suspended Davis-Bacon second.  It wasn't the city that spent over $200 million to house people on cruise ships or that still spends $11 million a day to house evacuees in hotel rooms.  To put that in context, the city of New Orleans has laid off most of its civilian workforce in order to save $5-8 million a month.  So we have an administration that spends over $200M on oceans liners and a congress that spends over $200M on a bridge to nowhere but the GOP is going to quibble over the terms of $750M in reconstruction loans because it doesn’t trust local government to spend money wisely? 

It is true that FEMA has announced that it will re-bid all the contracts, but it has only re-opened four contracts totaling at most $400 million out of $1.6 billion.  The $400 million figure may be too high as even FEMA's press releases aren't transparent.  FEMA has since announced that "a lot" of the no-bid contracts "are completed or are beyond the point where it would be economically feasible to re-compete."  One wonders how many projects will prove to be beyond that point. 
Despite living in a rather large glass house themselves, the Republicans are obviously correct about Louisiana's corruption, but Sen. Craig of Idaho may have given the game away when he said that fraud was part of the culture in both Iraq and Louisiana.  Give your cronies billions to rebuild devastated lands with bad reputations and, when most of the money gets wasted, blame the locals (if that seems far-fetched, try taking advantage of deregulation to manipulate the California energy market, when shortages occur, blame excessive regulation).  In Louisiana, you get the added bonus of being able to cite it as proof that large federal spending programs just can’t help some people.  How many people will actually realize that the money didn’t go to Louisiana but through Louisiana?
No one is saying that the Republicans want to harm Louisiana (or Iraq for that matter).  The strict repayment policy is probably just to look fiscally tough while giving away billions.  Good or bad outcomes are irrelevant: take credit for one, spin the other.  The main thing is to give fat contracts to cronies who will then contribute to the RNC and various PAC's so that the Republicans can remain in power to give fat contracts.....The K Street Project on steroids.
David (real last name)
New Orleans (now Metairie)

In the two weeks since I wrote this other events have pushed Katrina out of the spotlight and Marty Bahomonde’s testimony has (temporarily I’m afraid) short circuited the Republican effort to blame the relief nightmare on the state and the city.  I’m fully confident the effort will resume.  I’m equally confident that virtually none of the no-bid contracts will be re-opened.  They’re all certainly too far along to be re-bid; they’re in an analogous position to a real estate development where the historic structure has already been demolished or the virgin forest bulldozed and the pilings already driven, but the developer regrets any wrongdoing.  The question is whether the party in power in Washington gets blamed for the waste and fraud or whether they succeed in blaming it on the locals or even the general wastefulness of government spending.

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