Disaster Contract Bill Aims at Increasing Transparency

Senators James Lankford (R-OK) and Rick Scott (R-FL) introduced the Disaster Contract Transparency Act in an effort to improve the disaster contracting process on the federal, local, and state levels following natural disasters. The legislation comes after Government Accountability Office (GAO) reports indicated that advance contracts by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) were used ineffectively.

The GAO found that in response to Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria, as well as the 2017 California wildfires, FEMA and the USACE relied heavily on advance contracts. The GAO report on these responses found limitations in FEMA’s use of some advance contracts that provided critical goods and services to survivors, including an outdated strategy, unclear guidance on how contracting officers should use advance contracts during a disaster, and challenges performing acquisition planning.

“In Florida, we experienced firsthand the devastation and destruction massive storms have on families, communities and businesses across our state. During my time as Governor, we were faced with many hurricanes, and I always appreciated the assistance FEMA provided to Florida families and businesses,” Senator Scott said in a statement introducing the new legislation with Senator Lankford. “However, despite the good work done by our federal partners, one thing was clear: the federal contracting process is full of waste, inefficiencies, and bloated spending that didn’t always directly help the people in Florida who were impacted.”

According to the release, “the Disaster Contract Transparency Act:

  • Requires state and local governments to have advance contracts in place for debris removal services. Having advance contracts in place for debris removal will ensure debris is collected without delay. It will also make sure contracted prices that are in place with local communities and vendors prior to natural disasters are honored. 
  • Requires FEMA to penalize vendors for failing to adhere to pre-disaster contracts so any vendor that takes advantage of communities in their time of need by altering or not adhering to contracts, or by misusing taxpayer dollars, will be held accountable.
  • Limits FEMA’s reimbursement of debris removal to the lowest of the federal, state, or local contract rates to encourage efficient spending of reimbursement dollars. Many times, state or federal contracts offer higher rates to the same vendors for the same exact services – that’s not fair to taxpayers.
  • Directs FEMA to develop and implement clear rules regarding the oversight of debris removal contracts, including contract and eligibility requirements and contractor monitoring. This addresses deficiencies identified by DHS’s Inspector General in September 2018.
  • Requires FEMA to provide a report to Congress detailing a comprehensive list of advance local and state contracts for any disaster recovery services and any areas in need of contracts to increase transparency and accountability in storm response efforts.”

Senator Lankford also noted the importance of protecting taxpayers against price-gouging following natural disasters, noting in the statement, “Oklahomans are unfortunately well acquainted with natural disasters and severe weather, particularly after this year’s tornadoes and floods. This bill sets out important requirements for states to have advance contracts in place before disasters strike to ensure fair pricing for debris removal when the disaster happens.”

The legislation has been referred to the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.

Posted in From the Hill

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