(FOXNEWS) The U.S. Agency for International Development has awarded another lucrative no-bid contract, Fox News has learned — this time to a “politically connected” lobbyist and high-profile friend of former President Bill Clinton.
This marks the second no-bid contract the agency has been found to have awarded since the start of the year, despite a long history of vows by President Obama to crack down on the practice. The first, awarded on Jan. 4 and worth nearly $25 million, was steered to a firm owned by a donor to the Obama presidential campaign, for legal work in Afghanistan. The cancellation of that contract was announced by the State Department shortly after Fox News reported its existence on Jan. 25.
USAID’s latest no-bid contract, worth close to $100,000, was awarded on Jan. 18 to the GlobalOptions Group for work in earthquake-stricken Haiti, where Clinton is the U.N. special envoy and is helping to lead private fundraising efforts.
Described as an “integrated risk management” firm, GlobalOptions is headquartered in Manhattan’s Rockefeller Plaza and boasts 10 offices across the U.S. The GlobalOptions subsidiary that executed the contract is James Lee Witt Associates (JLWA), the “emergency preparedness and management” consulting firm founded by the former director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) under President Clinton.
While heading up JLWA, Witt is also a registered lobbyist, headquartered in Washington, D.C. Among his clients are the city of Little Rock, Ark., and its airport commission, from which JLWA received at least $120,000 last year; Allstate; and telecommunications giant Sprint Nextel.
Witt and Clinton go back more than two decades. As governor of Arkansas in 1988, Clinton first tapped Witt, then a county judge, to serve as chief of the state’s emergency preparedness agency. JLWA’s two vice chairmen are retired U.S. Army General Wesley Clark, who served as Supreme Commander of NATO in Europe during the Clinton presidency, and Rodney Slater, the secretary of transportation under President Clinton. On Feb. 5, during his most recent trip to Haiti, the former president was photographed at the Port-au-Prince airport standing beside Andrew Sachs and Mark Merritt, two JLWA executives.
According to documentation prepared this year for the Federal Procurement Data System and obtained by Fox News, the USAID contract called for GlobalOptions to receive $99,725 to perform 11 days’ worth of work in Haiti. An Excel spreadsheet listing federal contracts awarded in connection with the quake states that GlobalOptions was to provide USAID by Jan. 30 with an “initial assessment report” on the American response and recovery effort, along with an “in-country advance team” whose duties were unspecified.
The document further states that the contract was awarded under “full and open competition after exclusion of sources,” a phrase one high-ranking former USAID official told Fox News was a euphemism for a no-bid contract. A congressional source characterized the phrase, and this contract, as equivalent to: “We’re going to have a full and open competition in which we write the details only to fit you.”
For eight months prior to the earthquake, JLWA personnel were already in Haiti, working on disaster preparedness programs aimed at educating Haitian women. In published reports the company alternately said its pre-quake work in Haiti was taking place “under a United Nations special envoy” and was “tied to the Clinton Global Initiative” (CGI). Former President Clinton was appointed the U.N. special envoy for Haiti in May 2009. CGI is the non-partisan group the former president established in 2005 to “help turn ideas into action,” as its Web site states.
According to the Web site, CGI “does not provide funding directly to our member’s (sic) commitments,” but instead “acts as a marketplace that matches ideas, resources, and knowledge” and “facilitates effective partnerships.” This could well have been the role played by CGI in this case. Although no evidence has surfaced suggesting that former President Clinton personally intervened to help JLWA secure any federal contracts, Rep. Mark Kirk, the Illinois Republican who sits on the House Appropriations Committee, has written to USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah requesting more details on how the Jan. 18 contract came to be awarded to a “politically-connected” firm “lacking decades of experience in the field.”
“While recognizing the need for cooperation with the private sector in rebuilding Haiti, I am nevertheless concerned that the selection process may not have met USAID’s rigorous partnering guidelines,” Kirk wrote in the Feb. 16 letter, obtained by Fox News. “We know of over half a dozen recognized relief organizations with extensive experience in Haiti. Both JLWA and GlobalOptions do not fit that level of experience or expertise. … I ask you to provide full details of … the relevant USAID guidelines that were used to exclude more experienced non-governmental relief organizations in favor of the more politically-connected JLWA to assist in Haiti relief efforts.”
Neither USAID nor CGI responded to requests for comment. A spokesperson for JLWA told Fox News the firm’s work in Haiti prior to the earthquake was done for CGI on a pro-bono basis. The spokesperson also confirmed that JLWA received the short-term $100,000 federal contract, but does not presently have any contracts or commitments with either CGI or USAID.
Reached earlier, JLWA spokesperson Kim Fuller told Fox News the firm “is looking for further work” with USAID in Haiti, and had prepared the Jan. 18 contract as a “model” that could be re-used in order to “avoid the bid process” in time-sensitive cases like the Haiti quake.
Fuller also suggested the crisis atmosphere in the quake zone outweighed the need for USAID to abide by the terms of the memorandum Obama circulated last March imposing tougher guidelines for the contracting process.
“I think with emergency situations, the Obama call for no no-bid contracts might not be an issue,” Fuller wrote in an e-mail to Fox News. “We don’t believe that we were hired under a ‘no bid’ contract,” she stated in a second e-mail, contending the mechanisms used by USAID in this case rendered the term inapt. “The help was needed immediately and this is how the process panned out.”
Fuller said Witt donated extraordinary amounts of his own time and resources to the relief and recovery efforts mounted in the wake of the 2004 tsunami. “We did all of that for free,” she said in a telephone interview with Fox News. “We didn’t get one dime.”
Likewise, she said Witt happened to have been meeting with Shah on Jan. 11, the day before the earthquake struck Haiti, at Shah’s request. When the quake hit, Shah asked Witt to return to USAID for further discussions about how JLWA might be of service.
“We want to help you,” Fuller quoted her boss as telling Shah in their second meeting. “It wasn’t in terms of a contract.”
(MILITARY TIMES) A search team on Sunday found the body of the Air Force major killed in Haiti after his hotel collapsed during the 7.0 magnitude earthquake, his family said.
Maj. Ken Bourland had not been heard from since the Jan. 12 earthquake after he sent an e-mail to his wife from his hotel room minutes before it hit. He and six other members of U.S. Southern Command had flown to Haiti on the day of the earthquake to attend a disaster relief conference.
Bourland’s body was found under the rubble of Hotel Montana, the collapsed five-story hotel where he and his colleagues had stayed. The others in the Southern Command team, including deputy director Lt. Gen. Ken Keen, suffered only minor injuries.
A career UH-1 Huey pilot and the Caribbean desk officer at the command’s headquarters in Miami, Bourland’s body was returned to the United States on Monday morning. His family traveled from Florida to Dover Air Force Base, Del., to watch an Air Force carry team complete the dignified transfer of his remains.
Bourland’s family held out hope even 15 days after he went missing, wife Peggy said. Each story of an earthquake survivor helped the family hold out hope until Air Force officers told the family that Bourland’s body had been found.
Bourland leaves behind his wife, two sons — Carley, 3, and Andrew, 16 months — and his stepson Chance, 14.
The trailer industry and lawmakers are pressing the government to send Haiti thousands of potentially formaldehyde-laced trailers left over from Hurricane Katrina — an idea denounced by some as a crass and self-serving attempt to dump inferior American products on the poor.
“Just go ahead and sign their death certificate,” said Paul Nelson of Coden, Ala., who contends his mother died because of formaldehyde fumes in a FEMA trailer.
The 100,000 trailers became a symbol of the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s bungled response to Katrina. The government had bought the trailers to house victims of the 2005 storm, but after people began falling ill, high levels of formaldehyde, a chemical that is used in building materials and can cause breathing problems and perhaps cancer, were found inside. Many of the trailers have sat idle for years, and many are damaged.
The U.S. Agency for International Development, which is coordinating American assistance in Haiti, has expressed no interest in sending the trailers to the earthquake-stricken country. FEMA spokesman Clark Stevens declined to comment on the idea and said it was not FEMA’s decision to make.
Haitian Culture and Communications Minister Marie Laurence Jocelyn Lassegue said Thursday she had not heard of the proposal but added: “I don’t think we would use them. I don’t think we would accept them.”
In a Jan. 15 letter to FEMA, Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, said the trailers could be used as temporary shelter or emergency clinics.
“While I continue to believe that these units should not be used for human habitation, I do believe that they could be of some benefit on a short-term, limited basis if the appropriate safeguards are provided,” he wrote.
(TIMES ONLINE) United Nations troops used pepper spray yesterday to hold off a crowd of hungry Haitians queueing for food at a makeshift camp in the grounds of the wrecked presidential palace.
“They’re not violent, just desperate. They just want to eat,” Fernando Soares, a Brazilian army colonel, said. “The problem is, there is not enough food for everyone.”
The UN’s Brazilian troops are experienced — they have been stationed in Haiti for years — but they were struggling to hold the line. As they began deploying the pepper spray, the crowd broke up and ran back across the road coughing, eyes streaming.
Raoul Gai, 36, pulled his T-shirt over the head of Dalima, 9, his daughter, as she cried and spluttered. “They are giving food but I don’t like the way they are doing it,” he said.
Yesterday, the 14th day after the Haitian earthquake, the World Food Programme (WFP) was trying to deliver 107 cubic tonnes of rice and oil and beans to the starving of Port-au-Prince, enough to feed 20,000 people for 15 days. Two rice trucks were heading for the palace.
The queues had formed on the northern fringe of the ruins. As the food trucks came lumbering down the road, passing the city of shacks and tents, the whole camp stood up as one. Thousands of people came running out of their shelters and dashed across the road. “It’s not enough,” shouted a man as the convoy rattled past. “We are too many. Two trucks is not enough for us. They will fight, and the soldiers will shoot and fire gas.”
Recent attempts to deliver food to this camp have all descended into chaos: on Monday Uruguayan peacekeepers fired rubber bullets at the hungry masses, eventually withdrawing altogether, leaving the crowd to fight for the last sacks of rice.
The WFP trucks disappeared down an alley behind the palace, two tanks blocked the way and those at the front of the lines were given the bad news: only people on the south side of the palace would be served. So began a race around the ruins, young men streaming ahead, women and children behind, but for one sprightly woman in her sixties who managed to keep pace with the leaders. Her name was Elizabeth Sipion, 64. “My health is not so good,” she said. “I have eye problems, ear problems. But my belly is aching so I’m very fast.”
She secured a place near the front of one of the lines, but it was hard to tell which was the right line. Steel barricades ran across the alley. Behind them stood the Brazilian troops, followed by two tanks parked across the road. The trucks packed with rice were at the back of this procession.
The WFP says getting aid to the hungry in Port-au-Prince presents the greatest logistical challenge it has ever faced. Convoys have been caught for hours in traffic, there have been punctures. Once the trucks could not fit into the designated street.
“The UN staff have been working around the clock for the last 14 days,” said one WFP worker yesterday. “The only time they were not working was when they were looking for members of their family buried under rubble. They have lost their relatives, but they keep going.”
By Monday night the WFP said that it had delivered ten million meals to nearly 450,000 people. Villene Mariadine, 19, was one of the lucky recipients. Nine months pregnant, her house has been destroyed and her husband killed, and this was the first meal she had received. “I’m just so pleased to get it,” she said, walking away, a bag of rice balanced on her head.
Then the soldiers announced that the rice had run out. “There’s still food!” shouted a young man in the queue. “I can see it.”
“Go,” the soldiers said. “There is no more.” “But we are so hungry,” the crowd cried, thousands pressing behind. “We can’t stand it any more.”