Senators Lankford, Scott Introduce Bill to Protect Victims of Natural Disasters

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK – Today, Senators James Lankford (R-OK) and Rick Scott (R-FL) announced the introduction of the Disaster Contract Transparency Act to improve the disaster contracting process on the federal, local, and state levels of government following natural disasters. The bill will protect victims of natural disasters by ensuring post-disaster services are delivered quickly and taxpayer dollars are spent solely on helping impacted communities. Last year, the Government Accountability Office reported that, as of May 31, 2018, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) executed $4.5 billion in advance contract obligations—about 56 percent of the total obligations made by these agencies for response and recovery efforts—for three hurricanes and California wildfires in 2017.

This important bill will help protect taxpayers from price gouging on debris removal services once the federal government decides to offer FEMA assistance,” said Lankford. “Oklahomans are unfortunately well acquainted with natural disasters and severe weather, particularly after this year’s tornadoes and floods. This bill sets out important requirements for states to have advance contracts in place before disasters strike to ensure fair pricing for debris removal when the disaster happens. Prioritizing transparency, reporting requirements, and stronger pre-emptive disaster service contracts will help prevent waste, fraud, and abuse of taxpayer dollars.”

“In Florida, we experienced firsthand the devastation and destruction massive storms have on families, communities and businesses across our state,” said Scott. “During my time as Governor, we were faced with many hurricanes, and I always appreciated the assistance FEMA provided to Florida families and businesses. However, despite the good work done by our federal partners, one thing was clear: the federal contracting process is full of waste, inefficiencies, and bloated spending that didn’t always directly help the people in Florida who were impacted. When I ran for Senate, I promised to fight waste and make Washington work—and this landmark legislation will make sure the federal response to storms gets rid of the inefficient and costly bureaucracies in response efforts and keeps it focused on helping the victims and communities impacted.”

The Disaster Contract Transparency Act:

  1. Requires state and local governments to have advance contracts in place for debris removal services, which will ensure debris is collected without delay and ensure contracted prices are in place with local communities and vendors prior to natural disasters are honored. 
  2. Requires FEMA to penalize vendors for failing to adhere to pre-disaster contracts so any vendor that takes advantage of communities in their time of need by altering or not adhering to contracts or by misusing taxpayer dollars will be held accountable.
  3. Limits FEMA’s reimbursement of debris removal to the lowest of the federal, state, or local contract rates to encourage efficient spending of reimbursement dollars because often state or federal contracts offer higher rates to the same vendors for the same exact services, which is unfair to taxpayers.
  4. Directs FEMA to develop and implement clear rules regarding the oversight of debris removal contracts, including contract and eligibility requirements and contractor monitoring, which addresses deficiencies identified by DHS’s Inspector General in September 2018.
  5. Requires FEMA to provide a report to Congress detailing a comprehensive list of advance local and state contracts for any disaster recovery services and any areas in need of contracts to increase transparency and accountability in storm response efforts.