Fema Chided For Playing Favorites

Minorities in line for Katrina reconstruction contracts may finally get a shot

After complaints that small and minority-owned firms were being excluded from no-bid contracts awarded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency for jobs related to the recovery from Hurricane Katrina, FEMA announced in October that it would reopen many of those contracts for bidding.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, government officials said they allowed for millions of dollars in no-bid contracts to be awarded in order to expedite help to the region. Affirmative action rules were also eased for contractors by the Bush administration. Many minority firms complained that they weren’t given a fair chance to win the contracts, which were largely awarded to companies that already had a relationship with the government.

“The administration is bringing in white contractors from all around the country that are reaping the benefits from the suffering of these black people,” says John W. Boyd Jr., president of the National Black Farmers Association. The association was turned down by FEMA when it applied for a contract to deliver food to victims of the hurricane who were in shelters and evacuation centers.

The Associated Press reported in early October that only 1.5% of the FEMA contracts awarded to date had gone to minority-owned firms — far less than the 5% required for government contracts. FEMA spokeswoman Nicol Andrews says that percentage could not be verified and the requirement that minority-owned businesses receive 5% of contracts greater than $500,000 will be met by the time all contracts are awarded.

Rep. Melvin L. Watt (D-N.C.), chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, had been a vocal critic of the earlier no-bid process. He urges black-owned firms to be proactive about applying for government contracts: “All the minority contractors who are calling me now about what the process is for getting considered, I’m encouraging them to go ahead and file the preliminary application so that we can try to push and tug and have a more effective voice.”

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