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Tuesday, October 11, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Smaller firms to get Gulf Coast reconstruction projects

WASHINGTON — The Federal Emergency Management Agency said yesterday it will set aside several major Gulf Coast reconstruction contracts for small, disadvantaged businesses that will be selected to do the work through competitive bidding.

The agency's director, R. David Paulison, testified in congressional hearings last week that FEMA would put out for bid work that remains to be done under contracts initially awarded without competition to four giant construction and engineering firms: Shaw Group Inc., Bechtel Corp., CH2M Hill Inc. and Fluor Corp. Each of those firms received a deal worth up to $100 million in the first days after Hurricane Katrina struck. Their assignment was to set up temporary housing for hundreds of thousands of Gulf Coast residents displaced by the storm.

Yesterday's announcement means that smaller firms run by minorities, women, the disabled or others deemed "disadvantaged" by the Small Business Administration will be guaranteed part of the work. FEMA also said it would give preference to firms based in the areas hit hardest by Katrina.

The agency has come under intense criticism in recent weeks for awarding no-bid contracts to some of the nation's largest corporations, and for not giving enough work to small firms located in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.

An analysis by The Washington Post of the first wave of federal contracts signed after the storm hit showed that more than 90 percent of the contract value had been given to companies located outside those states. The agency has said it needed the work done quickly and went with the firms it knew best.

Touring the South

Bush makes 8th trip to New Orleans

NEW ORLEANS — President Bush yesterday made his eighth visit to New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina hit, dining in the French Quarter and staying at a luxury hotel to showcase progress in the city, even as much of it remains in ruins.

Many of New Orleans' businesses remain closed, relatively few people are on the streets and many areas remain uninhabitable, even if mostly dry. But the president, accompanied by his wife, Laura, chose to shine a spotlight on the improvements.

Over dinner at Ralph Brennan's Bacco in the Quarter, Bush discussed the city's rebuilding with Mayor Ray Nagin and some of the business owners, church leaders and others that he has appointed to a Commission for the Future of New Orleans.

Bush also met with political leaders and law-enforcement officials from Plaquemines Parish, a major seafood producer and home for oil refineries southeast of New Orleans that took a double hit from Katrina and then Hurricane Rita a month later.

Compiled from The Washington Post and The Associated Press

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company

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