Former FEMA chief Allbaugh in the middle

Joseph Allbaugh, a lobbyist who was President Bush’s emergency-management chief and campaign manager, represents several clients who could reap financial rewards as the federal government spends billions of dollars to clean up New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

After departing as the director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency in 2003, Allbaugh and his wife, Diane, founded the Allbaugh Group. Kellogg Brown & Root (KBR), a subsidiary of Halliburton, hired the firm earlier this year, as did the Shaw Environmental Group, according to Senate lobbying disclosure records.

Both companies are working in the Gulf Coast region.

Allbaugh’s wife represents Trade-Winds Environmental Restoration Inc., of Long Island, N.Y., and MLU Services, a company based in Athens, Ga., that specializes in removing debris after disasters.

Allbaugh flew to the Gulf Coast last week. His spokeswoman, Patti Giglio, said he went to coordinate private-sector relief, but did not give specifics.

“He is putting his shoulder to the wheel to mobilize the private sector, getting stuff in, getting what needs to be done done,” she said, adding that he is not there to help his clients secure government contracts. “The first thing he says when he sits down with a client is, ‘Don’t hire me if you’re looking for a government contract.’”

Nevertheless, at least one of the Allbaugh Group’s clients, MLU Services, is vying for a subcontract from the major corporations already leading reconstruction efforts.

KBR is working for the Navy and Homeland Security Department on cleanup in the Gulf. The Bush administration was criticized for suspending standard procurement rules to give no-bid contracts to companies including KBR’s parent, Halliburton, in Iraq. Halliburton was previously run by Vice President Cheney.

Pentagon officials urged the U.S. Army last year to withhold millions in payments to Halliburton after finding that the company did not account for more than $1.8 billion that it had billed the government for work in Iraq and Kuwait. The company has also been accused of bribery and kickbacks.

“They’re going to get hit with everything, especially from Democrats,” said Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, when asked whether the Bush administration faces similar criticism for relying on Halliburton and other major corporations to rebuild the Gulf Coast region.

“I think there are some laws that have to be changed, especially [when contracting] in emergency situations and the like. We’ll take a thorough look at this, but we’ve got to allow the people on the ground to get the situation stabilized,” Davis said. “We’ll see if they learned anything here.”

A client of Allbaugh’s said the former Bush official had nothing to do with his company’s business in the Gulf. “We have been a client of Allbaugh’s wife,” said Michael O’Reilly, president and founder of Trade-Winds, adding that the Allbaugh Group had done little work for the firm and that his company is working for pre-existing clients in the Gulf Coast.

“We have loads of private-sector clients pre-signed,” he said. “We’re there in a pretty large way in several areas of Louisiana.”

MLU Services, which has removed debris in the wake of hurricanes in Florida and at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia, is seeking work in Louisiana, said Bob Hale, a senior official at the company. MLU made national news this week when it donated seven truckloads of clean water, worth $50,000, to the residents of Biloxi, Miss.

“We’re not doing any work and not gotten any work yet,” Hale said, adding that MLU has an executive in the devastated region. “We’re trying to secure work, and you have to be on the ground where the contractors are and the bids are let out.”

After leaving FEMA, Allbaugh set up two additional outfits with the help of Gov. Haley Barbour (R-Miss.), who until 2002 had been a successful lobbyist in Washington. New Bridge Strategies helps companies secure contracts in Iraq and Blackwell Fairbanks represents Lockheed Martin, according to Senate disclosure records.

Ashbritt Environmental, a Florida-based corporation, and Phillips & Jordan were selected by the Army Corps of Engineers before Katrina hit to lead the cleanup effort. The Corps retains Ashbritt in the event of large catastrophes such as Katrina.

Ashbritt has close ties to top D.C. lobbyists, including Barbour’s former lobbying firm, Barbour, Griffith & Rogers, which helped Allbaugh set up New Bridge Strategies, according to the Barbour, Griffith’s website.

Barbour helped Ashbritt seek reimbursement for work it had done in the aftermath of hurricanes in Florida, said former Rep. Johnny Hayes (D), who represented Cajun country in Louisiana before becoming a lobbyist at Adams & Reese. Hayes represents Ashbritt in Washington.