Firm with Katrina criticism gains expanded Sandy role

TRENTONA firm criticized for its post-Katrina recovery work recently won a second Hurricane Sandy-related contract from New Jersey - to oversee environmental reviews of damaged properties - indicating a further expansion of its role in the state.

The contract for Virginia-based ICF International, estimated at $17.3 million, follows a January agreement with the state that appeared to expand an earlier contract with the firm for different recovery duties.

The new contract, which began March 28 and is to run until March 2017, was announced in a posting on the state Treasury's website but has yet to be listed with other such contracts on the state comptroller's "Sandy transparency" website.

The notice of award is listed on the Treasury website, though as of Tuesday evening supporting documents with details about the firm's scope of work had not been posted online.

A Treasury spokesman did not answer questions Tuesday about what the contract entailed or whether there was a competitive bidding process, saying that documents would soon be posted on the transparency website.

A spokesman for the Department of Environmental Protection said the contract had been competitively bid, but did not say when.

ICF was previously the target of criticism for its management of a Hurricane Katrina recovery program in Louisiana, where homeowners complained of poor treatment, lost grant applications, and long delays in receiving money to rebuild.

New Jersey DEP spokesman Bob Considine said ICF would serve as a project manager overseeing state contractors doing environmental and historic preservation reviews on properties damaged by Sandy, as well as reviews for projects creating new housing.

Considine did not respond to follow-up questions early Tuesday evening on why ICF was hired for the project manager role now and whether another entity had been performing the role previously.

At recent town hall events, Gov. Christie has cited environmental reviews as an example of federal red tape required by the grant process, slowing the delivery of aid to storm victims.

The project-manager contract for ICF is separate from an agreement that drew scrutiny from state lawmakers during a legislative hearing Monday, when the commissioner of the Department of Community Affairs testified that he did not know the value of an earlier state contract with ICF.

That contract, which dates to March 2013, was estimated last year at $5 million.

But in late January, the state entered into an agreement with ICF for the firm to also take on some work - up to a cost of $36.5 million - that had been performed by Louisiana-based Hammerman & Gainer Inc.

HGI had been the largest contractor managing the state's main grant program for homeowners until its three-year, $68 million contract was terminated by the state in December without public notice. Officials say the state has paid HGI $36 million; the firm has billed the state for $58 million.

In Louisiana, HGI worked as a subcontractor under ICF after Katrina and took over for ICF after the state did not renew the firm's contract in 2009.

In New Jersey, besides the deal to oversee environmental work, ICF will receive up to $36.5 million for providing staff to the state's nine housing recovery centers and taking over leases from HGI at some centers, according to a Jan. 31 task order. The order runs through December 2015.

Department of Community Affairs Commissioner Richard Constable said Monday ICF's original contract was competitively bid, and the firm's present role conformed with the contract.

Responding to questions about ICF's record, Constable said the state found issues with all of the bidders for the contract.

A DCA spokeswoman said the state was overseeing staff hired by ICF for the recovery centers and running the housing programs with support from ICF and other contractors.