Thursday morning Gov. John Bel Edwards announced that IEM, the company which back in March had come in as the lowest bidder under an RFP the state of Louisiana put out for flood recovery work only to see that bid thrown out under dubious circumstances, had been awarded the contract in question after all.
Gov. John Bel Edwards announced the selection Thursday morning, adding that the controversial move to scrap the first bid award would ultimately save the state money. His spokesman Richard Carbo said the second round of bids had lower labor and total cost estimates than the initial round. However, no firm estimates were provided by Thursday afternoon about what the total cost to the state would be. A copy of IEM’s latest bid proposal, provided to The Advocate, was heavily redacted and contained no labor rates.
Carbo said negotiations with IEM are ongoing but the full contract would be available within the next two days.
The contractor selection comes just three days after the funds appropriated by Congress were finally made available to the state.
“It was our goal to hire a contractor that would provide quality work with rigorous oversight at the most cost savings for the people of Louisiana,” Edwards said in a statement. “IEM has made that commitment to the state, and I am personally going to hold them to it. This is a difficult process, and sometimes takes longer than anyone, including me, would like, but I do believe it’s important for us to get this right.”
IEM initially bid $250 million for the program management contract, which will essentially oversee the disbursement of $1.6 billion in federal aid to flood-ravaged communities in south and northwest Louisiana from the March and August floods last year. That bid was $60 million lower than second-place PRDM and $100 million lower than third-place Sullivan Land Services, but the IEM bid was thrown out by the state Office of Economic Development because the state Board of Licensing for Contractors, through its executive counsel Larry Bankston, said IEM didn’t have a proper construction license. Bankston made the same ruling for PRDM, which would have meant Sullivan Land Services would have received the contract. When it was revealed Bankston’s son is a regional manager based in Baton Rouge for a company owned by Sullivan Land Services – that same company had hired Edwards confidant Alton Ashy as its lobbyist in December – there was a public furor over the contract and a major embarrassment for the Edwards administration.
Particularly given that Edwards had attacked Attorney General Jeff Landry back in August of last year over the latter’s objection to Bankston’s contract with the licensing board. Landry’s opinion was that Bankston, who spent 41 months in prison after being convicted of taking bribes from a video poker operator as a state senator, was a singularly unsuitable appointment to serve a board charged with giving out government licenses at a time companies with those licenses would compete for multi-million dollar government contracts. Edwards, and Louisiana news media friendly to him, dismissed Landry’s concerns as politically-motivated and ultimately got the Attorney General to back down from his objections.
And now the company whose bid Bankston tried to void, freshly equipped with all the correct licenses, has the contract a month later than it would have. At what price we don’t know, despite the Edwards’ administration’s initial promise to release the figure Thursday afternoon. No figure had been made available as of this writing, so there was no proof available of the governor’s claim that the re-bidding of the contract saved the state any money.
Not that a few million dollars in savings would be of any value to flood victims in Denham Springs or St. Amant who had to wait an extra month for Louisiana to get its act together before they got any help getting back into their homes.
Robert Bruno, an attorney for IEM said their team is ready to hit the ground running.
“We were ready to start work a month ago,” Bruno said. “We’re ready to roll and we understand the staffing needs. We understand every aspect of the procedure. We really feel like our main goal is to get people back in their houses.”
IEM filed suit last month after the contract award was revoked, challenging the licensing board’s decision.
Bruno said he expects that lawsuit will be dropped.
IEM’s contract award came just three days after the federal government released the $1.6 billion in flood recovery funds to the state of Louisiana, a disbursement which was the source of a major fight between Edwards and Baton Rouge’s Republican congressman Garret Graves.
About a week after the floodwaters rose in south Louisiana last August, Graves had a meeting with Edwards at which he admonished him to hire a program manager to start collecting data about damage, identifying flood victims, begin organizing resources and logistics and preparing to surge money toward recovery when it was available.
Perhaps it’s better eight months late than never. Not quite as good as acting on Graves’ recommendation back in August, or even barring Bankston from blowing up the first bid and getting the contract in place in March, though.