Fix the pumps

Friday, October 06, 2006

Snake eats own tail - details at eleven!

I stumbled across this New Orleans CityBusiness story from September 25th today. I had no idea this was being written. It uses some quotes I gave the reporter before the August 24th dry run of my September 6th presentation.

It's the first news article in nearly four months that gets someone from the Corps on record about the pump station repairs. It also quotes me liberally.

There's a lot to talk about in this article. But there are some things that jumped right out at me, and ought to upset everyone in New Orleans, not to mention St. Bernard and Plaquemines Parishes.

First is these two paragraphs:
"…Task Force Guardian, the Corps agency overseeing repairs to levees and floodwalls damaged by Katrina, was not focused on repairing pump stations. TFG had begun assessing damages to pump stations, but the majority of pump station repairs never began under TFG, Bolinger said. TFG dissolved June 1.

'Task Force Guardian had a tremendous amount of work to do, did a tremendous amount of work and accomplished what I consider to be an almost unaccomplishable task,' he said."

Now note that "not focused" is the writer's words, not the Corps guy's. But, still, it's a shocking thing to say, especially in light of the following quotes from long before June 1:
"For non-federal flood damage reduction projects, including pumps and pump stations, not active in the RIP, at full federal expense use FCCE funds, to 1) undertake permanent rehabilitation to pre-storm condition" - Memorandum to Assistant Secretary of the Army (Civil Works) J. Paul Woodley titled "Recommendations for One-Time Deviations to Certain Policies Regarding Use of P.L. 84-99 (33USC701n) in New Orleans & Vicinity following Hurricane Katrina - FOR APPROVAL," dated October 7, 2005.

The recommendation quoted above was approved by Mr. Woodley on October 12, and then received approval from the Office of Management & Budget (OMB) in the White House on October 17. I don't think this recommendation was ever acted upon, though one has to wonder what happened to the money that followed the recommendation.

There are other quotes from Corps documents before June 1:
"Based upon applicable regulation and guidance, I consider the Metropolitan New Orleans Area to be under an imminent threat from flooding due to the damaged hurricane protection system. I consider this threat to remain in effect until the hurricane protection system is restored to its pre-storm condition." - Memorandum for New Orleans District Staff and all Interested Parties from the New Orleans District titled "Imminent Threat of Flooding Due to Damaged Hurricane Protection Works," dated January 5, 2006.
"Contract - Contract Award
Roof repairs - 5/1/2006
Motors & Bearings - 5/1/2006
Offices - 4/30/2006
Discharge Line - 6/20/2006
Fencing - 5/5/2006
Building Repairs - 6/15/2006"
- From presentation by Jim St. Germain, Corps project manager, to Sewerage & Water Board about the activities of Task Force Guardian, March 15, 2006. Not one of these deadlines was met.
"TF Guardian was tasked with completing repairs to 68 non-Federal pump stations damaged by Hurricane Katrina in the four parishes in the New Orleans Metropolitan Area." - U. S. Army Corps Of Engineers Response To Hurricanes Katrina & Rita In Louisiana Environmental Assessment EA #433, April 17, 2006. This was the first document released to the public regarding Task Force Guardian's work.

So was all of that just words? Apparently so. Should anyone at the Corps be surprised that no one believes them?

There's also this passage in the CityBusiness article:
"[Corps project manager] Bolinger points to multiple factors he says have delayed repairs. For one, repairs could not begin until the third supplemental spending bill funds were approved, he said. Then, a project information report detailing pump station damages had to be completed. Also, the Hurricane Protection Office overseeing pump station repairs was created June 1, only three months ago. 'Since June 1 the pace has been phenomenal,' he said."

Here's the facts:

a) As the October 7th letter quoted above shows, it certainly appears the Corps could have been spending money on pump stations last October, not waited until legislation wormed its way out of Congress. In fact, waiting for legislation was one of the other options presented and declined in that letter. But let's play on the Corps' bizarro field of play and say they absolutely, positively had to have legislation.

b) The Third Katrina Supplemental was signed into law December 30, 2005. Within five weeks after that, almost five dozen contracts had been issued for levee repairs and construction of the floodgates. That was before the money was even officially received by the New Orleans District from the Treasury in February.

c) Some of those contracts were for work that was definitely not as urgent as pump station repairs. For example, there was this bunch of work over by Lockheed-Martin's Michoud facility on the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway. There were improvements installed on the levees there that were definitely not repairs. I'm speaking of the addition of the earthen stability berm. One has to wonder why levees that were not breached, and which protect hardly any homes, can get reinforced with federal funds devoted strictly to repairs, while the outfall canal levees, which protect hundreds of thousands of homes, remain just as weak as the day of the storm. By the way, note that the project also remains uncompleted. It's not the only one. As you can see on this page, there are at least ten Task Force Guardian projects on the levees that still aren't done, despite the Corps insistence that they finished on June 1.

d) And as far as a PIR being approved, the Corps managed to get PIR's for the pump stations in Plaquemines and St. Bernard Parishes approved on January 22, 2006. That brings up two questions:

1) What took so long getting the Orleans Parish pump station PIR approved?
2) Why didn't the Corps begin work in St. Bernard & Plaquemines Parishes as soon as the PIR's were approved?

That second question is not academic. The Corps regulations on which all of Task Force Guardian's work was based specifically say these repairs are to begin within 60 days of PIR approval. That regulation was not suspended by the October 7th memo. Here's the actual regulation:
"Contracts for repair of damaged FCW's will be awarded within 60 days of project approval, or, if the equipment rental method of repair is used, then the repair work must be initiated within 60 days of project approval. Any exception to this 60-day time frame must be approved by the MSC, and reported via SITREP." - Corps Engineering Regulation ER 500-1-1, Chapter 5, paragraph 5-2.

e) From June 1 to the date of this article (September 25), the Corps issued precisely two contracts dealing with pump station repairs: one for roofing in Orleans Parish (which was not publicly advertised, and which still does not appear on the Corps page supposedly showing all their contracts awarded), and one for bearing supply and repairs in stations 1, 6, and 19. And the bearing contract was awarded just five days before the article was printed. If that's "phenomenal," I'd hate to see what normal is.

Keep in mind we are now over 13 months out from the storm. Although - to be fair - by the Corps' standards, where process and churn are results unto themselves, I'm sure they believe they've done a lot. The problem is that their standards are like nothing in the known world where the rest of us mere mortals exist. Out here, actual results are what count. By that common sense measure, their pace has been glacial.

f) Why must the Corps wait for a new bureaucracy to be formed before they pull together some specs and get a bid solicitation out? I speak from a hell of a lot of experience in this field. I have put together dozens of specifications and bids, as well as evaluating them, turning them into purchase orders, and then following up all the way through change orders, installation, and startup. It is NOT a difficult task. The work they say they are doing (but have now admitted they weren't for nine months) is baby engineering. Heck, in some cases, they've even had the specifications handed to them.

The perfect example is the roofing contract. The Sewerage & Water Board gave the roofing spec's to the Corps in April. You can see that at the bottom of this June 22nd progress chart from the S&WB ("Roof Repair Priority identified specifically for COE on 4/28/06") and on page 9 of this June 22nd S&WB update ("S&WB furnished specifications and drawings have been provided to facilitate the Corps efforts but to date, only motor work is in progress"). So why in the world did the Corps take so long to get the contract out? I'll tell you why. They don't care. They couldn't care less if a pump operator got injured because they couldn't do the simple task of putting out a contract. It's not like they don't know how to put out contracts. Look at their awarded contracts page. It's filled with contracts going out every week. The simple answer is that they just don't care.

I'll be returning to this article for more analysis and commentary in future posts.


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