Saturday, November 12, 2005

FEMA taxpayer gouging

I stopped to talk to a FEMA home inspector a few days ago as he waited outside a house for the owner to arrive. He was there to determine the amount of damage to the house, how much was covered by insurance, and how much of the cost FEMA would cover.

The FEMA inspector was not, as you might think, a government employee. No, private business is so much more efficient! Why is it then that it costs $250 to inspect each home? The FEMA inspector said he made $40 a house. He said his company, the government contractor Parsons Brinkerhoff, gave him a list of 50 houses to inspect, and told him to come back in three days for another list. Training? Minimal. He said he was just getting started, but because so many people were difficult to contact (duh, FEMA still has them scattered across all 50 states), he was only able to clear six houses a day. I asked how much Parsons Brinckerhoff made on each house. He couldn't confirm a figure, but he said the talk around the camp where inspectors are living is that Parsons Brinckerhoff takes $200 per house. Oh sure, I suppose that just about covers the IT costs, transportation, paperwork, wining and dining FEMA officials, and lobbying congress and the White House. Actually, Parsons Brinckerhoff probably got a no-bid contract to do the project.

You know Parsons Brinckerhoff right? They're one half of the Bechtel-Parsons Brinckerhoff partnership contracted to oversee the Big Dig - Boston's project to divert 7.5 miles of its central roadway through a tunnel under the city. The project ws bid at $2.5 billion in 1985. By 2005, the cost had exploded to $14.6 billion. In the meantime, the partnership was being investigated for misleading the federal government about cost overruns and engineering problems. Then, just as the tunnel was scheduled to open, serious engineering problems were discovered. The tunnel leaked, forcing a delay in the opening pending an engineering and safety study.

Despite similar concerns on a number of Parsons Brinckerhoff engineering projects, the company continued to be rewarded with more contracts in which the same problems of cost overruns and faulty design emerged. With such a record of inefficiency and incompetence, it's a wonder that the company continues to win federal contracts.

Oh, but this is the Bush administration we're talking about. Year after year, Parsons Brinckerhoff donates thousands of dollars to Republicans - 8 to 1 over Democrats.

As we now know in the wake of the criminally pathetic federal response to Hurricane Katrina, the Bush administration favors its cronies over a record of experience and competence. Parsons Brinckerhoff fits the Bush administration profile perfectly.

Another Parsons Brinckerhoff FEMA home inspection contractor I talked to who had more experience said he was able to clear ten houses a day. Yep, you're doing the math right if you calculated that he's making $400 a day. I'd bet he's working seven days a week, but let's just say conservatively that he's working a five-day week. That's $2000 a week! $8000 a month!

Hell - I'm quitting my job! I could use summa dat bling!

Actually, a lot of homeless, jobless locals really COULD use some of that bling, and I'm sure they'd be ecstatic to live in a tent city if it meant they could not just support their families, but get rich besides. Unfortunately, the rebuilding of New Orleans is being contracted out to people from out of town, and taxpayers are being sent to the cleaners.

But hey, you know how it is with the Bush administration - war and disaster are just business opportunities!

But what do I know? I'm just saying there might be a story to be told here that the mainstream press is missing.


At 11/12/2005 10:59:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

War and disaster are definitely BushCo's forte. Hmm. Maybe there really is a weather machine out there...


At 11/13/2005 03:41:00 AM, Anonymous Robert Connolly said...

As with so many things that have gone on with this disaster, the situation caused by evacuating the city, the relocation of so many of the residents to so diverse accommodations and then add on top of that the inability of agencies to share this information as to where our former citizens are (Privacy Issues) is mind boggling. How do local businesses get in the system so that they can share in some of this rebuilding effort? How do employers get in touch with New Orleneans who want to come backand work in the rebuilding of the city? Does the body of elected officials really represent the constituancy now? If elections are held how would a campaign be run? Does a candidate need to reach out to all the areas where voters might be located?

At 11/13/2005 08:33:00 AM, Blogger Schroeder said...

A ha! That explains the stockpiling methyl sodium bicarbonate crystals behind the White House.

Robert, just yesterday I spoke to a rescue worker in the lower 9th Ward, where, unfortunately, the house to house search continues to uncover remains. The rescue worker expressed exactly the point you made about FEMA paying an undue amount of respect for privacy laws, refusing to release a list of people who are known to have survived, and those still missing, in the lower 9th. Such a list would make it possible to narrow the search for remains. Under the circumstances, someone should cut the crap and break the law. It is a humanitarian mission after all, in which names and addresses would only be provided to law enforcement.

That local businesses and workers are being left out of the process is a travesty - and one that is impacting the decisions people are making every day whether they will return to the city.

At 11/14/2005 08:48:00 AM, Blogger Casey said...

I go to LSU, and I'm doing a blog for a politics class regarding what the government owes us Your post was very insightful. My question is though if FEMA doesn't hire private companies how can they finish the huge task of reviewing all the houses destroyed not only in New Orleans but in the areas destroyed in west Louisiana and in Florida?

At 11/14/2005 10:26:00 AM, Blogger Schroeder said...

I didn't say private companies shouldn't be involved in the cleanup and rebuilding. I'm suggesting instead that the price charged should be questioned, the competence of the company should be investigated, and that local companies and workers should be involved more than they are now.

At 7/31/2006 11:42:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

OK, this is a really old post to comment on, but it deserves some prospective.
First, no, it is not a no-bid contract.

Second, yes, the inspector is paid around $45 per inspection, and if the inspector is efficient, they can do 10-15 a day.
Good money right?
Consider this...
The inspector rarely has an option to live in a tent city, and more likely is paying upwards of $100 a night for a hotel room. Add on around $40-50 a day for a rental car, hopefully with unlimited miles because they can easily put 2k miles per week, which of course uses alot of gas. Hopfully the rental agency wont get too upset about all the flat tires you will get driving on streets full of sharp objects. Your in your car sun up to sun down, and eating is almost always done on the run, so conservativly another $10-15 a day if you can stand to live off the dollar menu for long. Most of your calling will be done via cell phone and even the 2000 minute plan is easy to use up.
Your running a mobil office so you have dozens of other minor expenses that add up such as copies, faxes, shipping, and basic supplies.
You provide your own insurance incase some homeowner sues you for some incidental damage.

Now also concider that this is a seasonal job that you are on call for and must be able to leave home and be on the job within 48-hours. This limits what kind of other work you can do 'off season'.
When you are deployed, you are out for possibly months on end, with no days off. You talk with dozens of people each day, some out to scam the system any way they can and leave you wondering how they can live with themselves. And then others with very honest, very sad stories of death and loss, that will at least one time cause you to break down sobbing in your car between appointments.

Add on a president who appoints buddies with no emergency experiance to head FEMA, and removes its cabnit level possition to lump it under Homeland (in)Security whos priorities have nothing to do with yearly natural disasters that effect millions, but instead the 1 in a trillion chance that terrrorist might target a petting zoo.

At 7/31/2006 03:15:00 PM, Blogger Schroeder said...

It's an old post but I get notified anytime someone comments.

It's great hearing your perspective. As I think I stated in the post, I was simply trying to reiterate the facts as I was told them.

You provide another dimension to the story that the person I talked to wasn't volunteering.

As I calculate in my head what a contractor is earning, however, I have to say that contractor is earning twice what I make, even with all the complications, which means that a contractor can afford to pay as much as twice what I pay in rent (they'd be stupid to live in a hotel), and they may be forced to pay more for rent because it is *contractors* who are forcing normal residents like myself who are trying to survive with *normal* pre-Katrina wages.

I'm not inclined to feel a lot of sympathy for someone who can pull down $450 plus/day.

At 8/08/2006 03:07:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

who ever the last nit wit inspector was to post such a pitiful story, is starving as an inspector. Most vetran inspectors push upwards of 30 inspections each day and work 7 days a week (required) for the "season." An inspector can easily make $90,000 in just 3 months. NOW Take into consideration the inspector is paid based on inspections completed. In order to "inflate" disaster activity and inspector income, Parsons Brinckerhoff FEMA Contract Inspectors typically record damages that do not exist JUST so the applicant will receive money and tell all their friends to call. The money the inspector is awarding is "seed" or "free money" IT is ALSO your TAXDOLLARS.


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