Newhouse News reporter Sean Reilly has stayed on the case of post-Katrina contracts in the Gulf, and has unearthed more dubious dealings, this time with a company called PBS&J. First there's the questionable revolving door of a FEMA-employee-turned-contractor-exec:
Eric Tolbert spent almost three decades on emergency response teams, starting as a paramedic in his native North Carolina and rising to a top job at the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Early this year, Tolbert left government service for an executive post at PBS&J, a prominent Miami-based engineering firm. Since then, PBS&J has become a behind-the-scenes player in a contracting team that has garnered more than $145 million in government work related to the Hurricane Katrina and Rita recovery efforts, according to interviews and government records.
In an e-mail exchange this week, Tolbert said he played no role in winning that business and has "meticulously" abided by rules limiting contacts between former federal employees and their old agencies for at least a year. But the episode typifies the murky methods FEMA has used in shoveling billions of rebuilding dollars to private contractors.
"About as transparent as mud," is how Bill Allison of the Washington-based Center for Public Integrity described the process.
Then there's the fact that PBS&J didn't list themselves as the contract beneficiary, but instead said the money was going to a small company in Alabama:
But PBS&J's name appears nowhere on the agency's list of contract recipients.
Instead, the lone contractor named is a small south Alabama water treatment and purification company, Clearbrook LLC, that had previously handled only one federal contract, according to a government database. Clearbrook has about 35 full-time employees, said Chief Executive Bruce Wagner, who confirmed PBS&J's involvement.
Government records suggest that putting Clearbrook out front may also have helped the consortium win preferential treatment as a small business.
Is it time to revive calls for an independent oversight commission of contractors in the Gulf?