Critics question no-bid Katrina contracts

In Pass Christian, Miss., where most schools were destroyed, 56 mobile classrooms are being readied for students to arrive next week.

But critics complain the federal government paid way too much at $88,000 per trailer. That's $30,000 more than a Mississippi company says it would have charged for the very same job.

“It makes me mighty angry,” says Kent Adams, whose family owns Adams Home Center in Yazoo City. “We're just absolutely throwing tax dollars away.”

Adams says for 20 years his family's company has supplied mobile classrooms to the state. He says he already had half the trailers needed and the rest lined up for quick delivery.

But instead the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers gave a $40 million no-bid contract to a subsidiary of an Alaskan company — Akima Site Operations — that had never done this kind of work before.

“We really needed this,” says Adams, “Not just for us, but our own community and for the state of Mississippi. I think it would have produced a lot of jobs.”

The Corps of Engineers says Akima could deliver the classrooms faster and is also being paid to manage the project.

Still, a Mississippi congressman calls the contract exorbitant.

“The only excuse you can come up with is that we expedited it,” says Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss. “Well, you did, but you paid twice as much for it.”

Critics also say the Federal Emergency Management Agency is paying through the roof to temporarily cover damaged roofs in the Gulf Coast with blue tarps. The government is providing tarps free and paying an average of $2,500 to get them nailed to a roof. One of the contractors admits that for that price, you could shingle an entire roof.

The government and the companies justify the price, citing costs of housing and feeding workers in the storm zone.

Still, many roofers say it could be done for much less.

“After seeing those numbers, I would love to get that contract,” says Scott Siegel of Maggio Roofing Co.

Critics say, again and again, taxpayers are paying too much, driving up the already staggering cost of Katrina.

Lisa Myers is NBC’s senior investigative correspondent.