Despite majority, Senate rejects competitive bidding for disaster contracts

Coburn was trying to get his language onto an amended H.R. 1, which Democrats are using as the vehicle for the Sandy relief bill. Republicans have argued for weeks that the bill is too costly, and have proposed several options for reducing costs.

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During debate Thursday night and Friday afternoon, Coburn said waste in federal disaster aid can be seen in both the Hurricane Sandy relief efforts this year and the Hurricane Katrina relief efforts in 2005 and 2006. For Sandy, he said the government has overpaid for debris removal by 20 percent, and said debris removal costs were also a source of waste related to Hurricane Katrina.

"The Corps of Engineers was paid $62 per cubic yard to manage debris removal in Katrina," he said Thursday. "Through five layers of contracting, the people who actually did the debris removal in Katrina were paid $9 a cubic yard.

"So we paid six times what it actually cost to get the debris removal done because we did not have competitive bidding and we had multiple layers coming from the Corps of Engineers to national contractors, to regional contractors, to local contractors, to the actual guy with a backhoe and with a scoop and a dump truck."

On Friday, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) argued that competitive bidding is not appropriate during disasters, and said Coburn's language does not include any exceptions.

"This will hurt people, and hurt them badly, and in many instances will end up costing us more," Schumer said.

But Coburn said many federal disaster contracts are pre-negotiated, which means no time is wasted during emergencies.

Coburn also proposed language that would have taken out language that gives the Army Corps of Engineers the authority to choose which flood and storm risk mitigation projects to pursue without congressional oversight. But he withdrew that language after Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said the language was recently changed to ensure that this authority is narrow, and deals only with projects dealing with damage caused by Hurricanes Sandy and Isaac.