WASHINGTON - March 6 - To guide its massive repair of the New Orleans flood control system, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is turning to a firm headed by its former commander who played a prominent role in perpetuating the neglect and misplaced priorities that contributed to the disastrous post-Katrina levee failures, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Under a three-year open-ended contract announced last week, the Corps will award hundreds of millions of dollars to a company staffed by the same managers who were in positions of authority when critical levee work was short-shifted.
The company, HNTB Federal Services Corporation, is led by retired General Robert B. Flowers, who was the Corps’ Chief of Engineers from 2000 until 2004, a period in which the Corps pursued questionable navigation projects in New Orleans at the expense of flood and hurricane protection. In addition, Flowers was the commander of Corps’ Mississippi Valley Division from 1995 to 1997 which was directly responsible for construction, operation, inspection, and maintenance of New Orleans flood and hurricane protection projects.
“This is like hiring Michael Brown to reform FEMA,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting that Flowers was also the Corps officer who personally approved the controversial series of no-bid contracts between the Pentagon and a subsidiary of Halliburton for a range of reconstruction work in Iraq. “In the Corps, those who screw up are guaranteed a tidy fortune as private consultants advising how to remedy their past mistakes.”
Under a three-year “indefinite quantity” contract, HNTB will provide the Corps with consulting, design and engineering services to assist in rebuilding critical infrastructure that failed during hurricane Katrina. In essence, its former commander’s firm will act as the Corps’ general contractor for the vast and lucrative reconstruction of the New Orleans levee system.
Flowers is just the latest in a parade of Pentagon officials and Corps commanders who have left the government to work for the very companies whose eligibility for government contracts they formerly managed. The last five former top Corps commanders have joined consulting, engineering and transportation companies that depend on the Corps or other federal agencies for the bulk of their business.
“The revolving door at the Corps churns so fast that it resembles a Cuisinart,” Ruch added. “The system’s perverse incentives turn tragedies into profit opportunities reserved for connected insiders.”