By Kevin Bogardus - 10/11/10 10:00 AM EDT
A number of construction and disaster-response firms have hired Washington lobbyists to help navigate the contracting process for rebuilding Haiti.
In January, Haiti suffered a devastating earthquake that left thousands dead and millions homeless. Since then, the U.S. government and its international allies have pledged billions of dollars in aid to get the impoverished island nation back on its feet.
Consequently, lobbyists have tried and are still trying to free up the money for their clients wanting to work in Haiti, which include some of the biggest disaster-response companies in operation.
CH2M Hill, for example, hired Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck in late July to begin lobbying on “Haiti reconstruction,” according to lobbying disclosure forms released on Oct. 1.
“CH2M Hill is an international construction engineering firm that has supported many reconstruction efforts, from the tsunami in Southeast Asia to the relief efforts in the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina. Brownstein is currently assisting CH2M Hill [to help] evaluate how they could provide support to the ongoing reconstruction effort in Haiti,” the firm said in a statement.
Leading the charge for CH2M at Brownstein is former Rep. Larry LaRocco (D-Idaho), according to disclosure forms.
Lobbyists and company executives interviewed by The Hill said navigating the reconstruction process is difficult since it requires knowledge of both the U.S. contracting process and the Haitian government.
The State Department already has Haiti reconstruction contracts running through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and more are expected once more funding is shuttled through. In addition, the supplemental requires the Obama administration to spell out a reconstruction timeline for Haiti, a development lobbyists are monitoring closely.
CH2M is not alone in hiring lobbyists this year to help out with Haiti issues.
International Trilogy Partners, a wireless service provider, hired KRL International to help with its operations in Haiti, according to lobbying disclosure records. SG Blocks, a construction company, hired Federal Strategy Group for the same reason.
Some lobbying contracts stemming for Haiti’s earthquake have already ended.
ML Strategies, the lobbying offshoot of the law firm Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky and Popeo, earned $90,000 in lobbying fees from the disaster-response company AshBritt Environmental before the two firms parted ways earlier this year. David Leiter, former chief of staff for Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), was one of many lobbyists working for the company, according to disclosure records.
Randy Perkins, CEO of AshBritt, said the contract with ML Strategies was successful but always meant to be short-term. Leiter and other ML Strategies lobbyists helped set up meetings between AshBritt executives and key officials at USAID and the World Bank, according to Perkins.
“I needed to understand, as I was weighing my risk on what we had invested in Haiti, what money has been appropriated and where is it going,” Perkins said. “They assisted us on understanding how these agencies work in a post-disaster situation in a foreign country.”
Perkins said AshBritt has invested $25 million in Haiti thus far and has already begun work on a government contract to clear rubble. They also plan to compete for another reconstruction contract being offered by the World Bank.
Perkins has also set up an internal government-affairs shop to keep track of what the U.S. government is doing in Haiti.
Not every company that has angled for work in Haiti has found success.
Beth Clay, senior vice president at Capitol Strategy Consultants, became frustrated with the process while lobbying for Shelters International, which builds transitional housing out of bamboo for the displaced.
“It really is 'Everyone passes the buck onto someone else,' " Clay said.
Clay said she is not actively lobbying for the company anymore because of the roadblocks in funding reconstruction in Haiti. Shelters International wanted to build homes out of bamboo for those living in tents and under tarps in Haiti, but money became an issue.
“The company just didn't have the funding to continue,” Clay said. “They really put themselves out there, and they just couldn't keep it going. They have to keep a small business running.”