Faced with clearing the debris of hundreds of homes incinerated by the Marshall fire, Boulder County is entering a high-stakes world of government contracting where tens of millions of dollars will be spent in a short time so people can begin rebuilding their lives.
The competition between the companies that do this disaster-recovery work is fierce. Such projects can be ripe for fraud. And any mistakes Boulder County makes in overseeing its soon-to-be-awarded cleanup contract could leave local taxpayers holding the bill without repayment by the federal government.
Already, two companies competing for the contract raised red flags in the days after the Dec. 30 wildfire, warning Boulder County that it was on track to jeopardize millions in federal reimbursements by not following proper procurement procedures.
And a former director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency who lives in Boulder County said he’s concerned about how the county is going about hiring a contractor to clear the mess left by the 6,000-acre wildfire that destroyed 1,270 homes and businesses — a loss of more than $500 million.
“If an audit is performed by FEMA or the inspector general and they find they didn’t do it the right way, then FEMA has to ask for a part of the money back and the taxpayers are on the hook to pay it. That’s why it’s so important to do it the right way,” said Michael Brown, who was head of FEMA under President George W. Bush from 2003 to 2005.