NEW ORLEANS - When the Army Corps of Engineers solicited bids for drainage pumps for New Orleans, it copied the specifications - typos and all - from the catalog of the manufacturer that ultimately won the $32 million contract, a review of documents has found.
The pumps, supplied by Moving Water Industries Corp. of Deerfield Beach, Fla., and installed at canals before the start of the 2006 hurricane season, proved to be defective, as the Associated Press reported in March. The matter is under investigation by the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress.
In a letter dated April 13, Sen. David Vitter, R-La., called on the Corps to look into how the politically connected company got the post-Hurricane Katrina contract. MWI employed former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, President Bush's brother, to market its pumps during the 1980s, and top MWI officials have been major contributors to the Republican Party.
While it may not be a violation of federal regulations to adopt a company's technical specifications, it is frowned on, especially for large jobs like the MWI contract, because it could give the impression the job was rigged for the benefit of a certain company, contractors familiar with Corps practices say.
The Corps' January 2006 call for bids for 34 pumps used the wording on how the pumps should be built and tested, with minor changes, found in MWI catalogs.
The specifications were so similar that an erroneous phrase in MWI catalogs - "the discharge tube and head assembly shall be abrasive resistance steel" - also appears in the Corps specifications. The phrase should say "abrasion resistant steel." An incorrect reference to the type of steel that would be required apparently was also lifted.
Eugene Pawlik, a Corps spokesman in Washington, said the agency is working on a response to Vitter's letter.
MWI declined to discuss how it won the contract. GAO would not talk about its probe.
After Katrina swamped about 80 percent of the city, Congress appropriated $5.7 billion to rebuild New Orleans' flood protection systems. Vitter and Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., have excoriated the Corps over its workmanship since Katrina. *