The last thing Florida Governor Rick Scott needs right now is the slightest hint of controversy surrounding disaster management. Most fair political observers agree that last year, in the wake of two hurricannes slamming into Florida, Scott rose to the occasion. Democrats, unhappy that Scott’s popularity reached a high point last fall, sought to mar his performance any way they could. And they unfairly fanned the flames of the tragic deaths of a dozen senior citizens in a nursing home.
Few outside of the supporters of Gwen Graham and Bill Nelson honestly blame Scott for what happened. But in politics, literally anything can become “fair game” for political opponents who can and will exploit any perceived vulnerability. What can be easily dismissed as a random “act of God” after one incident can easily turn into a predictable pattern – especially when political operatives spend millions of dollars trying to draw connections.
Scott’s Division of Emergency Management has already found itself embroiled in controversies this year, among them, a rule change that Florida media says is forcing victims of Hurricanes Hermine and Matthew to wait even longer for federal relief funds. From FloridaPolitics.com:
First, the state Division of Emergency Management (DEM) — the disaster response people — got caught changing the rules in a way that makes storm-ravaged cities across Florida wait … and wait … and wait to receive federal reimbursement for damages suffered in Hurricanes Hermine in 2016 and Matthew in 2017. The feds already approved the money, almost $118 million, but DEM reinterpreted some rules to force projects to go through a lengthy and questionable federal review before the funds are delivered.
But now Scott’s Department of Economic Opportunity could potentially exacerbate Scott’s vulnerability when it comes to his final hurricane season as governor. DEO issued an invitation to negotiate (ITN) related to a contract to aid the state in administrating the disbursement of disaster management funds – very similar to the controversy that the folks at DEM are already embroiled in. After two rounds of questions and answers with vendors, the Department made some needed corrections to prevent the requirements from obvioiusly favoring certain vendors, however as FloridaPolitics.com reported, the Department has still left the door open to awarding the contract to a firm that helped draft the action plan this very procurment is based on.
The state hired a consultant to help develop an action plan for an Invitation to Negotiate, and now that same company wants to win the contract. That seems like it would have a pretty huge unfair advantage, since it helped create the contract it now wants to “compete” for.
A federal audit of a relief program found that West Virginia had received about $150 million after 2016 flooding, but Horne had only distributed about $1.14 million of it. Horne’s contract with the state mysteriously mushroomed from $900,000 to $17 million – apparently without any proper oversight by the top state officials.
With the Horne, LLP situation still looming as a potential political football, sources inside DEO say that another controversial firm, ICF International, is also trying to land the contract. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina – the big one that devastated New Orleans back in 2005 – the state of Louisiana contracted with ICF Incorporated to deliver financial services to homeowners for home repairs and related services. But the Louisiana state legislature ended up launching an investigation after the company’s large-scale bungling of property values, damage estimates and questionable “deductions” from reimbursements.
ICF Incorporated ended up getting fined over a million dollars for their failure to deliver grant money on time, and the state of Louisiana banned them from doing business in the state. From the New Orleans Times-Picayune:
As ICF International’s contract ends Thursday, the company is generally reviled by Louisianians and essentially banned from new business with the state, but walks away $900 million richer and holding lucrative contracts with governments across the country.
That is not exactly a ringing endorsement. Especially since long delays and funny business with homeowner disaster assistance is already one of the problems that Florida’s DEM is combating. But then there were reports that the company overpaid some homeowners (with taxpayer dollars) to the tune of about $94 million. Unfortunately, the company’s reputation was already so tarnished at that point, they didn’t get a lot of sympathy when they tried to recover those wasted dollars in a lawsuit.
Newsweek magazine went so far as to label the company “incompetent.” But none of that bad news stopped the state of New Jersey from hiring ICF, forcing then-Governor Chris Christie onto the defensive.
These are certainly not the kind of problems Governor Rick Scott needs during the most important hurricane season of his political career. After all, the company already destroyed the career of Louisiana’s political leaders.