By Christie Duffy
ICF International is still in litigation over errors it allegedly made while trying to help Louisiana recover from Katrina, like overpaying applicants and not meeting deadlines.
”Very difficult relationship at times, but able to work through it. We did penalize several times for not meeting benchmarks for about $1.3 million,” said Louisiana Recovery Authority Former Executive Director Paul Rainwater.
ICF International has now been awarded a $7 million contract here in New Jersey to help out with three of the state’s housing recovery grant programs.
ICF is being paid to process applications. But it’s the state Department of Community Affairs, led by Commissioner Richard Constable, that decides who is approved. Constable and his team are getting advice from ICF on how to follow strict federal regulations for dispersing Sandy money.
At a Senate Legislative Oversight Committee hearing in February, the commissioner was asked about ICF’s past. Constable said, “There’s no company that does disaster relief that doesn’t have any problems or concerns. But I will tell you that they’re doing a great job.”
ICF says its work after Katrina can’t be compared to the job here, because, “In New Jersey, ICF is not ‘at the helm.’ The New Jersey Department of Community Affairs (DCA) is responsible for managing the grant process,” said ICF International Senior Director of Public Affairs Steve Anderson.
State and federal lawmakers are criticizing the Christie administration for not being transparent enough about expanding ICF’s role and for why it fired the original contractor, HGI — a company with which the state of Louisiana had a good experience.
“We paid them $37.6 million out of a $36 million contract. We paid them 55 percent of their contract cost for less than 20 percent of contract time. That’s illogical,” Assemblyman Gary Schaer said.
New Jersey ended its contract with HGI in December after complaints of lost paperwork, slowness and a lack of communication.
The former head of Louisiana’s Katrina Recovery Authority expressed the need for transparency during New Jersey’s recovery.
“Contractors are not attending public hearings and it sets a bad precedence. I have heard from people that they’ve been to public hearings and they haven’t seen anyone and they’re frustrated ,” said Rainwater.
Rainwater says victims want to know how much money is being spent and where it’s going on a daily basis. He says he’s had direct conversations with the Christie administration about lessons learned after Katrina.