updated 8/9/2006 7:37:36 PM ET 2006-08-09T23:37:36

The Bush administration on Wednesday awarded temporary housing contracts worth up to $1.5 billion for future hurricane disasters, including four to companies that previously received no-bid contracts for Katrina work.

Four of the six contracts awarded will go to Shaw Environmental & Infrastructure, Bechtel National, CH2M Hill Inc. and Fluor Enterprises Inc., which received similar contracts but without competition after Hurricane Katrina last fall.

Partnership for Temporary Housing and Disaster Solution Alliance also received contracts.

All six contracts were awarded following a competitive bidding process.

The six were chosen as winners out of 13 proposals based on the quality of plans, price and resource capacity, the Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency said.

“The awarding of these contracts will go a long way toward ensuring the federal government is prepared and can act quickly,” said FEMA Director David Paulison.

FEMA has come under criticism for awarding no-bid contracts initially worth a total of $400,000 for Hurricane Katrina work to Shaw, Bechtel, CH2M Hill and Fluor, prompting a promise from Paulison last fall to rebid them.

Since then, FEMA has competitively awarded portions of the no-bid contracts to small and minority-owned firms for trailer maintenance. But it has also extended contracts for Shaw, Bechtel, CH2M Hill and Fluor to allow them to finish separate work on Katrina.

The value of the four big contracts was raised from $400,000 to $2 billion last winter, and then raised again to $3.4 billion to allow completion of the work. Those four companies also were deemed among the most suitable for future disaster work, FEMA said.

Political connections
Some of the companies have strong political and government ties, and Homeland Security inspector general Richard Skinner has been reviewing the propriety of the contracts, with a report expected in October.

The Shaw Group’s lobbyist, Joe Allbaugh, is a former FEMA director and is a friend of President Bush, while Bechtel CEO Riley Bechtel served on Bush’s Export Council from 2003-2004, and CH2M Hill Inc. and Fluor Corp. have done extensive previous work for the government. The companies have denied that connections played a factor.

“These large contracts are for our immediate emergency response,” said Deidre Lee, FEMA’s deputy director of operations and chief acquisitions officer. “We would use the six for an immediate response, and then transition the work to regional contracts.”

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