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Follow the money: No bid contracts

In-depth look at where your tax dollars are going to rebuild Gulf
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In testimony on Capitol Hill Thursday, FEMA Chief R. David Paulison said the organization will re-bid on some no-bid contracts, which received much criticism.  Later, a FEMA spokesperson clarified, saying there will only be re-bidding on the four largest no-bid contracts. 

So what's really happening to the hurricane relief money trail?

Hardball gave an in-depth look at where your tax dollars and donations are going in the rebuilding efforts after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.  The Washington Post's Jonathan Weisman has been following this story and joined Hardball with a report.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HARDBALL HOST: Is it the same old procurement business, where you just show cost-plus? 

JONATHAN WEISMAN, WASHINGTON POST: Pretty much.  And in this case, you know, basically, the big guys always win, because FEMA is trying to turn these contracts around so fast, that they're just going out and calling the people that usually bid on these contracts and saying, hey, we got another big contract.  Why don't you put in a bid?

They're going out the door so fast that the little guys, the guys who haven't been involved, the guys down in Louisiana and Mississippi, who don't have a lot of contacts up in Washington and don't have a lot of lobbyists up here, they don't even know that the contracts are even available. 

MATTHEWS: Why don't they flash them over the Internet and give everybody a shot, like an eBay situation? 

WEISMAN: You know, they do put them up on their Web site.  But, if you have ever tried to find like the FEMA contracting Web site, you better know what you're looking for.  It ain't easy. 

MATTHEWS: What about the role of lobbyists, people like Joseph Allbaugh, the former FEMA director?  Are they the guys that grease the skids for the big corporations? 

WEISMAN: Oh, absolutely.  You saw it in things like this Carnival Cruise Line contract for $238 million.  Carnival is extremely well-placed in Washington.  It's got the leaders of that company have spent millions of dollars giving maybe not only to Republicans, but to Democrats as well.  And they're very, very savvy.

MATTHEWS: Jonathan, I hear, a lot of those rooms on those ships are dead empty.  They're getting the full amount of money, as if the ships are filled up, fully, fully occupied, in fact, lots of money being made by those cruise lines by getting a per-room basis, rather than a per-passenger basis.

WEISMAN: That's right.  They got a six-month contract.  I mean, it's for six months, but it doesn't say whether you're going to pay the same amount for a half-filled ship or a fully-filled ship. 


WEISMAN: Yesterday, Paulison, the new head of FEMA, said that the ships are now filling up.  But for much of a month, they were half-full, if that.

Watch each night at 5 and 7 p.m. ET on MSNBC.