Emergency management claims hurricane recovery work continued despite stop work order

Year in Review: Hurricane Florence flood impacts across the Grand Strand and Pee Dee
Year in Review: Hurricane Florence flood impacts across the Grand Strand and Pee Dee
Published: Jan. 7, 2019 at 9:20 PM EST
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RALEIGH, NC (WBTV) - The North Carolina Office of Emergency Management continues to insist that no work has stopped after the office was ordered to cancel a federally-funded contract because it was improperly awarded.

WBTV first reported on Friday about the order to cancel a contract awarded as part of the STEP program, which is a federally-funded FEMA program designed to make temporary repairs to homes in the wake of natural disasters.

North Carolina awarded a roughly $1.5 million contract to a company called AECOM in mid-November to manage the STEP program in the state.

But the company was told to stop work less than two months later after officials at the North Carolina State Purchasing Office upheld a protest from a competing company that the contract had been improperly awarded to AECOM.

“To ensure consistency and fairness throughout this process, the State hereby makes the recommendation to vacate the award and reissue the solicitation for competitive bidding,” the decision letter read. “NCEM shall develop clear and objective criteria with respect to the technical and cost evaluation methods under guidance of the Division of Purchase & Contract.”

Related: Contract for Hurricane Florence recovery cancelled due to improper procurement process

After WBTV’s first story about DOA’s decision to cancel the contract, a spokesman for NCEM insisted no work has stopped or been delayed as a result of the contract being cancelled.

“It’s not accurate to say that work has stopped or been delayed on the STEP program, or that it’s unknown when it will resume. Home repair work in the program continues without interruption and AECOM continues to manage the STEP,” NCEM spokesman Keith Acree wrote a WBTV reporter late Friday night.

But an email obtained by WBTV shows NCEM ordered AECOM to stop its work managing the project on December 27, 2018.

A NCEM representative sent the following email to AECOM:

“Per our phone conversation on 12/27/2018, the Department of Administration has directed the Department of Public Safety, Division of Emergency Management (NCEM) to inform you that due to the upholding of the protests from IEM and Community Recovery Alliance, AECOM must cease working as the program manager for 19-RFP-014458-WAX. As part of this stop work order AECOM and NCEM will develop and submit a transition plan that will enable to NCEM and AECOM to perform some services that will not adversely impact program participants until a handover can be fully completed. AECOM will finalize and submit any invoices for services rendered to NCEM.”

It is not clear that NCEM has formally submitted such a plan.

When presented with relevant parts of the above email and asked for comment on Monday, Acree did not provide one.

Nor did he produce any records showing the agency had submitted a transition plan.

Instead, Acree referred a reporter to a spokeswoman for the Department of Administration, Nan Sanseverino, who issued the following statement:

“The Department of Administration (DOA) has been advised by the Department of Public Safety’s Division of Emergency Management (NCEM) of their intent to exercise the Transition Assistance provision within their contract with AECOM. This clause avoids interruption of key Emergency Management services related to the STEP program, including operation of the call center and website for STEP application assistance, processing of pending applications, and assistance with homeowner repairs. This action is within Emergency Management’s purview under the terms of their contract with AECOM.”

In response to follow-up questions from WBTV, Sanseverino said the department was advised of NCEM’s transition plan on January 3, 2019.

Like Acree, Sanseverino could not provide any documentation to support her claim that NCEM had submitted its transition plan or that it had been reviewed by DOA.

In fact, Sanseverino said her department was not involved in the administration of the contract, despite multiple statements by the agency that it would need to approve subsequent RFP’s and future evaluation criteria for the new bid, among other things.

When presented with those facts, Sanseverino said she would follow up with additional information on Tuesday.

The cancellation of the STEP contract is the latest setback for NCEM when it comes to managing hurricane recovery.

North Carolina was previously labeled a ‘slow spender’ by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development for its failure to begin spending any of a more than $200 million grant awarded to help repair homes damaged by Hurricane Matthew.

Related: NC has spent $0 of $200 million grant to rebuild homes damaged by Hurricane Matthew,report says

House Majority Leader John Bell (R-Wayne), whose district was hit by both Hurricane Matthew and Hurricane Florence, issued the following statement in response to WBTV’s initial story on Friday:

“It’s extremely frustrating to see Governor Cooper and his team take us down this path again. The General Assembly has given the Governor every tool he needs to implement the recovery and not repeat the mistakes he made with Hurricane Matthew. I’ve worked with the Governor’s office on three different disaster relief packages to get bureaucratic red tape out of the way so people can get the help they need. Its a shame we are already getting more of the same delays for people who simply cannot afford to wait any longer for the help they were promised and need.”

In November, WBTV requested records related to the evaluation and awarding of the STEP program contract. NCEM has yet to produce any records but Acree, the agency’s spokesman, said staff is reviewing potentially responsive documents.

Acree has refused multiple requests to make a NCEM official available on-camera to answer questions about the cancellation of the STEP contract.

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