Louisiana Keeps Pressure on Road Home Contractor

April 28, 2008

Even as it met a deadline to avoid a $3.3 million performance penalty, the private company that runs Louisiana’s Road Home program faced a new $1.65 million fine if it did not meet additional benchmarks designed to get rebuilding aid more quickly to victims of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

ICF International of Fairfax, Va., had until April 25 to correct errors and provide missing documentation in 607 grant files for the state’s flagship recovery program or face the $3.3 million shortfall. State officials acknowledged the company met the requirement and the 330 files reviewed so far appear accurate.

That did not stop the state from placing new hurdles in front of the company on the same day. ICF now stands to lose $1.65 million if it doesn’t meet a June deadline to make grant payments in 116,000 Road Home cases, disburse more than 2,800 second payments that have been owed to applicants, and work to get more commitment letters to qualified households.

“As we push for greater compassion and customer service in the Road Home, we must also stay focused on the ultimate goal of getting rebuilding dollars in the hands of homeowners and landlords,” said Paul Rainwater, executive director of the Louisiana Recovery Authority, the state office that has gotten increasingly tough on ICF under the administration of new Gov. Bobby Jindal.

Gentry Brann, spokeswoman for the company said in an e-mail: “The aggressive performance measures provide an objective and transparent means of assessing the progress of the program. The entire Road Home team of 1,800 Louisiana-based employees will continue to focus on fulfilling the commitments of The Road Home program as quickly and as fairly as possible.”

The possible fines are negotiated with the company under the terms of its contract.

Road Home, financed by $10.3 billion in federal funds, gives victims of the 2005 hurricanes up to $150,000 to rebuild their damaged home, but it has been blamed for the plight of Gulf Coast neighborhoods that remain a patchwork of recovery.

The company stands to be paid $912 million for its work on the Road Home, which will be shared with subcontractors that include Louisiana construction powerhouse The Shaw Group, and prominent law firm Jones Walker.

Recent actions against ICF are part of an increasing number of tests for the company that has to date administered average payments of $58,643 to 106,793 of 155,384 qualified applicants.

It is under state investigation for the $150 million increase in its contract in the waning days of former Gov. Kathleen Blanco’s administration. A state legislative bill seeks greater transparency in subcontractor relationships with ICF, asking for corporate agreements and copies of work orders and payment records to be sent to more officials.

Federal authorities also are investigating possible fraud against the program. U.S. attorney Jim Letten declined comment.

Brann said that federal authorities had subpoenaed the company for documents related to suspected applicant fraud. Stephens confirmed the same day that Suzie Elkins, executive director of the state’s office of community development under the Blanco administration and now a subordinate to Rainwater, had twice been called before the federal grand jury.

Stephens would not comment on the nature of the testimony. Elkins was involved in awarding the Road Home contract to ICF and until Jindal took office was a leading mediator between the state and the company.

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