Congress's investigative arm found no evidence of fraud or improper influence in the placing of faulty pumps along New Orleans' drainage canals before the start of last year's hurricane season, a U.S. senator from Louisiana said Thursday.
Sen. Mary Landrieu's comments come at the conclusion of a congressional investigation into whether the Army Corps of Engineers mishandled the bidding for post-Katrina drainage pumps that proved to be defective. In preparing bid specifications for pumps, the corps had copied specifications — typos and all — from the catalog of a politically connected Florida company, Moving Water Industries Corp., which installed 34 drainage pumps at canals before the start of the 2006 hurricane season.
Landrieu said the Government Accountability Office found that the Corps was in a rush to get pumps in place prior to the June 1 start of the 2006 hurricane season. The 2005 season had produced Hurricane Katrina, when failures in the city's flood protection led to inundation of 80 percent of New Orleans.
"We always said there was no smoking gun," Col. Jeffrey Bedey, who is overseeing reconstruction of the city's levee system for the corps, said in reaction to the report.
The corps has said it is "accepted and prudent" practice to adopt a company's design in government bids. Bedey said Thursday that a corps is doing its own review of the MWI contract, which will be released soon.
A GAO official who led the investigation, Anu Mittal, declined comment, saying the final version of the report is not complete.
Pumps never put to the test
A May 2006 memo by a corps inspector working on the pump project, provided to The Associated Press earlier this year, warned that the pumps were faulty and would not work if needed to remove water during a hurricane. GAO opened its investigation after the memo surfaced.
The corps has insisted that the pumps would have worked, but last year's unexpectedly mild hurricane season never put them to the test. A draft of the GAO report said it was uncertain how well or how long the pumps would have worked if a hurricane had struck last year, Landrieu's office said. The pumps have since been overhauled.
Landrieu, in a telephone news conference, said the GAO told her that the corps should have been more transparent about problems with the pumps and the rushed schedule for testing.
"The greatest weakness was the corps assuring people this was in place when it wasn't," Landrieu said.
Top officials at MWI, the company that won the contract, have been major contributors to the Republican Party and, in the 1980s, had employed former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, President George W. Bush's brother, to market its pumps.