McCaskill Continues Investigation into Post-Hurricane Contracting, Seeks Answers on Debris Removal Contracts

WASHINGTON – After recent news reports revealed a failure to execute prepositioned contracts for debris removal in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma last year, U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill continued her investigation into post-hurricane contracting by once again pushing the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) on the steps it is taking to ensure proper use of prepositioned contracts at the state and local level. The Florida Department of Transportation, which cleared debris in the Florida Keys after Hurricane Irma, had 18 debris removal contracts in place prior to the hurricane, but awarded at least two emergency contracts rather than using prepositioned contracts. The cost of the two known emergency contracts may have exceeded pre-negotiated rates by more than $30 million.

“I’m going to keep repeating this as many times as I have to—we need more prepositioned contracts, and we need to make sure they are executed properly,” said McCaskill, the top-ranking Democrat on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, which maintains oversight for FEMA. “In this case you saw prepositioned contracts actually in place, but they didn’t get used and that may have left taxpayers on the hook for millions of dollars—we need to find out why.”

While FEMA was not executing the debris removal contracts in Florida, the agency typically reimburses states for debris removal expenses following a natural disaster. FEMA has a responsibility under federal law to ensure that state and local emergency management project costs are necessary and reasonable before reimbursing state and local agencies for those projects. Prepositioned contracts allow agencies to lower costs by maximizing competition, conducting market research, and thoroughly evaluating prospective contractors’ qualifications and proposals before disasters strike. Emergency contracts, which are made after a disaster has already occurred, can often cost far more. In Florida, one of the contractors reportedly charged the state $913 for every mile of curb and gutter that was swept during the debris removal process, compared to rates of $123 per mile, $32 per mile, and $12 per mile in three of the prepositioned contracts.

In a letter to FEMA Administrator Brock Long, McCaskill expressed concern with reimbursement for these emergency contracts: “I write with questions regarding Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) reimbursement for potentially wasteful debris removal contracts the State of Florida awarded in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma. According to recent press accounts, the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) awarded at least two emergency contracts for debris removal in the Florida Keys rather than using prepositioned contracts that were negotiated in advance of the storm.”

McCaskill’s letter to Administrator Long follows from extensive work in the aftermath of the devastating 2017 hurricane season to promote use of prepositioned contracts. Earlier this year in April, she released a scathing report that detailed significant failures by FEMA in the contracting process for emergency tarps and sheeting during last year’s hurricane season, including inadequate use of prepositioned contracts. At a Committee hearing later that month, McCaskill pressed FEMA Administrator Brock Long on the lack of prepositioned contracts for the 2017 hurricane season. Last month, it was revealed that FEMA began the solicitation process for prepositioned contractors who can deliver plastic sheeting used for temporary roofing protection often needed in the wake of a hurricane, following the pressure from McCaskill in April.

McCaskill has also made contracting oversight more broadly a top priority since last year’s hurricane season. Earlier this year, she revealed that a $156 million cancelled contract for providing 30 million meals to Puerto Rico included misrepresentations and apparently extensive plagiarism. McCaskill has also repeatedly called for answers over the Whitefish contract in Puerto Rico, writing to FEMA asking for additional information on the agency’s role in the contract. McCaskill previously joined Committee Chairman Ron Johnson of Wisconsin to call for an investigation from the Department of Homeland Security Inspector General into the Whitefish contract. She also wrote to the Army Corps of Engineers about the nearly $1 billion it was awarding to contractors for repairing the electrical grid in Puerto Rico. 

Read McCaskill’s full letter to FEMA HERE.