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The Joys of Art

Friday, April 14, 2006

FEMA done pissed some folks off!!!

I recall reading in a previous news article that Mr. Edmons said something to the extent that "you have phucked with the wrong folks down here"....The man right "C'here" is planing to give FEMA's azzes hell!!!! Go for it Mr. Edmons!!!! Those snakes deserve to have their heads stomped into the ground!!!!

The Man Right c'here--Mystikal

FEMA contract list is surprise
After fuss to rebid, same issues remain
Friday, April 14, 2006
By James Varney
Staff writer
With surprisingly little fanfare, the Federal Emergency Management Agency this week awarded a batch of contracts to a curious array of businesses, including some with no discernible physical presence and others whose advantaged bidding status could be at odds with the definitions the agency established last year.

At stake is some $3.6 billion in contracts to manage and dispose of the tens of thousands of trailers FEMA has strung along the storm-wounded Gulf Coast as temporary housing. The latest winners, buried Wednesday on a Web page the federal government maintains to track business opportunities, got 13 of an expected 18 contracts that will go to minority-owned corporations.

The agency's low-key revelation contains other surprises among the winning bidders, none of which FEMA officials have addressed. These include an accounting firm; out-of-state entities whose winning bids are remarkably low, given they were subject to a 30 percent markup to make them less competitive; outfits not listed on public state corporation and phone listings; and one company that a principal officer confirmed has contributed more than $160,000 to President Bush and various Republican committees since 2004.

The list stunned some vendors so far denied a piece of the action, which stems from the rebidding of four gigantic contracts FEMA let in September when Hurricane Katrina's fury had barely abated. The deals with big, multinational firms generated considerable heat for FEMA, which quickly promised to rebid them but then missed several deadlines for announcing the new contracts.

Yet in recent weeks, agency officials have loudly insisted in news releases and congressional testimony that the nearly complete process would herald an aggressive shift toward the inclusion of local, small businesses in the lucrative post-storm contracting universe.

"I hadn't looked at the list for a couple of days, and when I got online this morning and looked, I said, 'Oh, my God, look at this,' " said Kenny Edmonds, owner of River Parish RV's Inc. in LaPlace. "How can they do this?"

Guidelines ignored?

Edmonds' consternation stems from meetings in New Orleans in November at which FEMA assured locals they would receive preferential treatment in a contract sweepstakes that now includes 36 separate awards of as much as $100 million each. At those pre-bid hearings, which attracted hundreds of potential vendors, explicit guidelines were established that Edmonds and others have accused FEMA of later ignoring.

FEMA continues to remain mum about the rebidding. Agency officials were asked about the matter at a U.S. Senate subcommittee hearing Monday in New Orleans, and in phone calls and e-mail over the following three days. Despite promises that detailed answers are forthcoming, the agency so far has not provided them.

Nearly half of the awarded contracts in question cover Louisiana, with the rest slated for Texas, Mississippi and Alabama. Wednesday's updated announcement shows that six contracts have been awarded in Louisiana, three in Mississippi, and two each in Alabama and Texas. That leaves unknown the winners of five more contracts for minority and disadvantaged companies, as well as all 18 pending arrangements with small businesses. One clue to the latter group, however, was contained in a March letter FEMA sent Edmonds and other unsuccessful bidders, in which the agency indicated that at least half of the eight small businesses expected to win deals in Louisiana are out-of-state firms.

A similar uncertainty clings to the "in-state" status of two companies on Wednesday's winner's list, one of which is a politically connected Georgia firm that previously landed several post-storm contracts.

The first firm listed, for example, is SRS Inc., from Gallatin, Tenn. The second apparently out-of-state winner is MLU Services Inc., which lists an office in Baton Rouge but whose main headquarters is in Athens, Ga. The Louisiana secretary of state's corporation database shows MLU forming here on Sept. 16, 2005 -- more than two weeks after Katrina slammed into the coast -- and the database currently lists the company as, "(non-Louisiana)." As with SRS, however, it is unclear whether MLU's bid of $274,890,168 was subject to the markup.

'We get it done quick'

FEMA's pre-bid language defined in-state, small firms as ones with $30 million or less in annual sales, and as those "who regularly conducted business in the State of Louisiana prior to the disaster event."

Sen. David Vitter, R-La., assailed those definitions as overly broad, and it appears MLU may meet them. MLU's owner, Marcia Ulm in Athens, referred questions to her husband, Billy, who is overseeing operations in Louisiana for the company. Billy Ulm said the company had been active in Louisiana earlier and that the travel trailer portion of MLU does less than $30 million in sales. Overall, the company itself may be just below $30 million in sales, Ulm said, but he did not have exact figures available.

Ulm also listed six debris-removal or trailer deals on which MLU has been a subcontractor since last year's storms.

But MLU has genuine advantages, Ulm argued. For starters, he said, the company is well-versed in the work, which in this case had five-year specifications calling for monthly inspections at 6,700 trailers, the creation and staffing of a call center for trailer residents and the disposal of the trailer units.

"We get it done quick and right," Ulm said. "We'll self-perform, and we'll hire locals throughout."

The self-perform portion of the work, he argued, was particularly significant because FEMA wants at least 51 percent of these contracts to be handled by the winner, presumably to curtail the widespread practice of subcontractor layering that plagued other post-storm arrangements and drove up costs. Ulm says that some potential vendors bring no discernible expertise in travel trailer work to the table, and thus their prices are suspect -- a charge echoed by several others.

Ulm downplayed MLU's political connections. While he confirmed that the company and its principals have contributed more than $160,000 to President Bush and various Republican committees since 2004, he said they also have made contributions to some Democrats. And although MLU did employ Diane Allbaugh, wife of Joe Allbaugh, a former FEMA director and chief of staff for Bush when he was governor of Texas, that business relationship was severed last spring before Katrina was so much as a tropical depression, Ulm said.

The company enjoys its federally certified 8A status, which the Small Business Association defines as "a small business . . . unconditionally owned and controlled by one or more socially and economically disadvantaged individuals who are of good character and citizens of the United States," because Marcia Ulm is an Asian-American, he said.

Suspiciously low bids

In other areas, some of the quoted bid prices are suspiciously low, according to Edmonds of River Parishes RV's and three other unsuccessful bidders. For example, while Edmonds and some of his colleagues expressed reservations about MLU's small and in-state status, they agreed the company's bid of nearly $275 million was within range. SRS, on the other hand, with a "technically acceptable, lowest evaluated price" of $133,567,129, according to the Web page, was impossibly low, Edmonds said.

Dewayne Scott, SRS' point of contact who is in New Orleans setting up its operations, begged to differ. What's more, he said his $133 million price includes a 30 percent addition.

"I don't know the bidding methodology of the other companies, but we've been working hard on this project since last November, and we've got a lot of professionals on our team with 20 or more years of experience in the hotel industry and extended-stay projects," Scott said.

SRS has completed some 27 task orders at the Army's Fort Campbell, as well as a host of other projects for other federal military agencies, Scott said. Last year, the Small Business Administration named it the 8A contractor of the year in Tennessee, he said. SRS is partnered on the Louisiana job with Terry Land Development, a company based in Paducah, Ky., he said.

"We didn't get all this by just sitting around," he said.

The only other successful bidder under $200 million was DC Recovery Services of New Orleans, which submitted a price of $180,841,127, according to the federal Web page. That company lists an address of 6600 Plaza Drive, which was submerged for days in the post-Katrina flooding. DC Recovery officials could not be reached for comment. The company is not listed at all in the state's corporation database, and directory assistance shows 15 different corporate listings for that address but none for DC Recovery.

Davis Professional Accounting Services, the highest successful bidder on Wednesday's list at $281,779,619, also remains something of a mystery. Like DC Recovery, Davis lists an address in flood-ruined eastern New Orleans, but it has established a phone line. Calls to its principal, Corinthia Davis, were not returned, although a secretary confirmed the company is primarily a bookkeeping operation.

. . . . . . .

James Varney can be reached at jvarney@timespicayune.com or (504) 826-3386.


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