It has been nearly two years since Hurricane Michael ravaged the Panhandle, and there’s still plenty of work to be done before the region fully recovers from the storm.
A couple of months ago, the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity announced a $735 million action plan for storm recovery, with a core focus being on infrastructure and housing.
Proposals have flown in and now DEO is going through and evaluating them ahead of an Aug. 7 deadline.
As Gov. Ron DeSantis’ favorability ratings continue to tank amid the coronavirus pandemic, the eventual selection has major implications for the November elections and beyond. If they get it right, it has the potential to change the current narrative or continue the current slide by alienating President Donald Trump’s base in the bright red Panhandle.
Simply put, DeSantis’ administration can’t afford to mess this up. Unfortunately, there’s no shortage of ways it could as many of the firms applying for the recovery money have well-documented histories of bungling similar contracts.
Innovative Emergency Management, for instance, has whiffed on contracts to lead recovery efforts in Florida as well as two other states. The DEO has already amended IEM’s $67 Million contract from 2018 no less than five times for failing to deliver.
Louisiana ditched IEM over conflict of interest issues, as it had written the funding application for another contractor that was booted for poor performance. Though IEM claims there was no conflict, the appearance alone had the potential to jeopardize the state’s $750 million FEMA home elevation grant.
The work IEM did complete in Louisiana wasn’t up to snuff, either, resulting in more than 400 deficiency letters and notifications of performance penalties.
Coincidentally, the company IEM contracted with to write Louisiana’s FEMA funding application is also competing for the Hurricane Michael dollars.
ICF International was originally awarded the home elevation contract, though it was clawed back and awarded to Rainwater because of the company’s abysmal performance.
There are hundreds of articles detailing the depth and breadth of ICF’s mismanagement of Louisiana’s hurricane housing program. The company was slow to get grants to homeowners, and when it did, they were rarely processed correctly — homeowners were usually shortchanged or overcompensated. Meanwhile, there were signs the company was double billing the state for certain operations in order to boost profits.
ICF’s role in handling Hurricane Sandy recovery in New Jersey is also suspect — the company received a no-bid contract for the job, and it’s accused of playing along with a scheme by the Gov. Chris Christie administration to deliver funds to areas that supported redevelopment projects pitched by his allies.
But perhaps the most damning summation of ICF’s track record was published by the Houston Chronicle last year — two years after Hurricane Harvey hit, only 15 homes had received recovery funds.
Also in the running for Michael money: AECOM.
Like the rest of the applicants, AECOM has left a trail of complaints when it has been entrusted with major recovery contracts.
Most recently, the company was awarded a contract to help the U.S. Virgin Islands recover from hurricanes Irma and Maria. There have been complaints about the quality of the home repairs provided but overshadowing those were reports that AECOM wasn’t paying its subcontractors.
As reported by The Washington Post last year, the territorial government was forced to subpoena the multibillion-dollar firm after it failed to show up for a hearing on the nonpayment complaints. At the time, AECOM played it off as if the feds were slow to release funding, however further reporting revealed the nonpayment problems were somewhat unique to AECOM.
“We worked for SLS in Puerto Rico and St. Thomas and got paid every week,” one contractor told the Virgin Islands Daily News. “Now we are working for Patriot under APTIM and we can already see the difference in professionalism and support toward their subcontractors. It is like night and day compared to Excel and AECOM.”
The company also has a history of egregious overbilling — for a Louisiana contract, the firm routinely charged the state as much as $65 an hour for administrative assistant work, which is more than double what it had been charging the federal government for the same work on a different contract.
And then there’s Horne LLP, a firm which Florida Politics already raised alarms about when it sought a disaster management contract in 2018. At issue is a contract the company landed in West Virginia that was so riddled with problems that the state’s Senate President and House Speaker asked a joint committee to investigate.
There are many factors the state must consider when selecting the vendor to take the lead in rebuilding after Hurricane Michael, and there’s no guarantee that any of them will handle the job perfectly, but unlike CONNECT or other vestiges of past administrations, DeSantis won’t be able to pass the buck if his administration picks a dud. A mistake made now also has the potential to snowball, considering the next time a hurricane heads toward Florida, we might not be as lucky as we were with Isaias.
At the very least, the Governor and DEO should scratch off the names of these firms that have proved they don’t have the ability to get it right the first time.