The newly formed Rebuild Iowa Office which is responding to recent natural disasters around the state will remain open indefinitely, said Iowa Gov. Chet Culver.
He said it’s “very likely” that the office will have a permanent presence not only to help with flood recovery efforts, but also to prepare for other natural disasters. However, he said it’s unclear how many employees will be needed after this year’s response efforts are completed.
The office opened in July and has 47 employees.
Culver said the Rebuild Iowa Office and the separate Rebuild Iowa Advisory Commission are important in coordinating the state’s rebuilding process.
“We’re going to have to have a permanent presence, both in terms of our long-term planning through the commission and then the office,” Culver said.
Contracts obtained this week by The Des Moines Register show that taxpayers will spend nearly $3 million for two consulting companies to assist the Rebuild Iowa Office, including applying for federal money.
James Lee Witt Associates of Washington, D.C. gets the largest of the contracts at $2.7 million and lasting two years. The other agreement, for $238,235, goes to the State Public Policy Group of Des Moines. That 37-day contract is largely to help the Rebuild Iowa Advisory Commission and its nine task forces in conducting and taking notes during public meetings and writing reports.
A taxpayer watchdog group and Republican legislative leaders have some concerns over the consultant costs and the possibility of a new, permanent state office.
“It seems to me that when it comes to taking notes, writing reports and applying for grants, that we should have a whole houseful of experts on that in state government,” said Senate Minority Leader Ron Wieck, R-Sioux City. “I think we could be spending that $3 million to help the people of eastern Iowa rebuild.”
Courtney Greene, a spokeswoman for the Rebuild Iowa Office, defended the contracts.
“This is a good investment from the state of Iowa,” she said. “We need to make sure Iowans get every dollar of assistance for which they are eligible, and having the help of a firm like James Lee Witt Associates that have the knowledge and experience they have will help us do so.”
She said the consultants are needed because the “magnitude of this disaster far exceeded the state’s capabilities.”
It’s unclear just how much total money is being spent by the Rebuild Iowa Office, and Greene said the agency has no budget and a list of expenses wasn’t immediately available.
The expenses for the office are being paid through the Iowa Homeland Security and Emergency Management Division, which hired the consultants. Greene said much of those costs are reimbursed to the state from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Culver is accused of a power grab and seizing the opportunity to expand state government by Ed Failor Jr., executive vice president of Iowans for Tax Relief.
“He should be worrying about solving problems for many, many hurting Iowans across the state, not about how he can grow government,” Failor Jr. said.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, D-Des Moines, said he believes the long-term future of the office as outlined by Culver makes sense.
“If we don’t do the long-term work we need, then we’ll have egg on our face nine or 10 years from now,” McCarthy said.
For more information on Rebuild Iowa Office: http://www.rio.iowa.gov/ ___
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