The Federal Emergency Management Agency may have violated federal law by trying to distribute contract dollars equally among three firms, rather than selecting the most qualified candidate, according to a new report commissioned by the Department of Homeland Security.
In the report dated October but released earlier this month, independent public accounting firm Foxx & Co. found that FEMA may not be complying with the Brooks Act, which requires that the government select engineering and architectural firms based on competency, qualifications and experience. Additionally, the report said that FEMA neither established performance standards for its contractors nor evaluated their performance.
The agency in 2006 awarded contracts to three companies to provide technical assistance, such as engineering services or environmental expertise, to government or nonprofit groups that had received disaster response funding. Irving, Tex.-based Fluor, Arlington-based Emergency Response Program Management Consultants and Gaithersburg-based Nationwide Infrastructure Support Technical Assistance Consultants were all selected to receive future task orders over a five-year period.
Auditors reviewed nine different task orders awarded to the contractors for services provided in response to hurricanes Gustav and Ike in Texas and Louisiana and flooding in Iowa, all in 2008. The contractors received more than $165 million for their work on the disasters, according to the report.
Though the base contract awards complied with the Brooks Act, the audit found no documentation to indicate FEMA had discussions with the three firms before awarding a given task order.
“Without an evaluation of qualifications, questions arise whether FEMA may be using a less qualified contractor to do the work,” the report said. “In addition, a contractor may have already been in place at a disaster location, been more qualified and familiar with the community and issues, and thus could have been a better resource and responded more quickly.”
Auditors recommended the agency seek the Justice Department’s opinion, but FEMA said it is working with the Homeland Security general counsel’s office, which will go to the Justice Department if necessary.
The report also called for FEMA to establish performance expectations and assess contractor performance. FEMA is now developing an evaluation worksheet, a draft of which was distributed to regional divisions in August for their review.
“Without performance expectations or adequate monitoring or evaluations, there is no assurance that the federal government and the state and local entities are receiving the expected . . . contractor services,” auditors added.
Indeed, the report finds that in three task orders it examined, FEMA employees reported having trouble getting the needed technical assistance from the contractor. The report contends that the lack of established expectations and evaluations means the government cannot determine whether it received a fair return on its investment.
– By Marjorie Censer – The Washington Post – Monday, November 22, 2010; page 10