Katrina Cleanup Rife With Fraud and Mayhem

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337

Katrina Cleanup Rife With Fraud and Mayhem

Documents Prompt Call for Review of Army Corps Contractor Supervision

WASHINGTON - The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers allowed rampant fraud, widespread
safety violations and serious threats to public health in its massive
Mississippi clean-up operations following Hurricane Katrina, according
to agency documents obtained by Public Employees for Environmental
Responsibility (PEER). The documents depict a total breakdown in Corps
management of its contractors.

In the chaotic post-hurricane
environment, contractors from hundreds of miles around converged on
towns that were in some cases little more than rubble. In paying crews
by the amount of debris removed, the Corps created an incentive to
cheat as contractors raced to raise their load totals and make more
taxpayer money, regardless of whether the material was being safely or
legally handled - or even whether it was, in fact, debris. The Corps
documents show, for example that -

  • Crews were caught in a national forest cutting healthy trees undamaged by Hurricane Katrina to fill their loads; and
  • Contractors routinely roamed outside of demolition zones to grab the greatest amount of material they could quickly load; and
  • Subcontractors were directed to gather and report illegal loads to pad load statistics.

PEER
obtained the documents following litigation filed under the Freedom of
Information Act. On April 2, 2007, the Corp denied the group's original
record request on the grounds there was nothing to be found:

"The Hurricane Katrina relief effort is a highly profiled recovery
effort and has been very publicly scrutinized...None of these reviews
have discovered any environmental damage by the relief effort."

Yet,
the Corps' own contemporaneous incident reports describe hundreds of
environmental and safety violations that endangered both workers and
the general public, ranging from car accidents to chainsaw mishaps to
broken water mains to improper burning of debris pits.

"Admittedly this was a tough job but that is all the more reason why it
should be openly examined rather than buried in a bureaucratic debris
pit," stated PEER Counsel Christine Erickson. "It is fair to say that
the Corps has been the antithesis of transparency in this inquiry."

Part
of the problem was that Corps "quality assurance" officers were
overwhelmed, unable to exert even rudimentary control over contractors.
This lack of oversight was aggravated by an apparent Corps
disinclination to hear bad news. For example, one quality assurance
officer who reported widespread violations and problems was relieved of
his duties by the Corps and sent home.

"Corps records portray
a Wild West, anything-goes atmosphere where fraud was encouraged and
corners were not just cut, they were bulldozed," Erickson added. PEER
is asking for a Pentagon-level review of how the Corps oversaw clean-up
operations. "Since the Corps maintains there were no problems, there
will be no lessons learned without outside investigation."

 

Read the PEER call for Inspector General review 

See selected Corps reports describing problems 

Look at other Corps post-Katrina problems 

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Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) is a national alliance of local state and federal resource professionals. PEER's environmental work is solely directed by the needs of its members. As a consequence, we have the distinct honor of serving resource professionals who daily cast profiles in courage in cubicles across the country.

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