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Oversight Committee Democrats Ask FEMA Contractor to Correct Testimony; Release Documents About Failure to Serve Victims of 2016 Baton Rouge Flood

Jun 30, 2017
Press Release

Oversight Committee Democrats Ask FEMA Contractor to Correct Testimony; Release Documents About Failure to Serve Victims of 2016 Baton Rouge Flood

 

 

Washington, D.C. (June 29, 2017)—Today, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, Ranking Member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, and Reps. Carolyn Maloney, Eleanor Holmes Norton, Wm. Lacy Clay, Stephen Lynch, Gerry Connolly, Robin Kelly, Brenda Lawrence, Bonnie Watson Coleman, Stacey Plaskett, Val Demings, Raja Krishnamoorthi, Jamie Raskin, Peter Welch, Mark DeSaulnier, and John Sarbanes sent a letter to Rear Admiral David Boone, President of CB&I Federal Services LLC, giving him a final opportunity to correct or withdraw his sworn testimony before the Committee in light of new documents obtained by the Committee that contradict his previous statements.


“Should you decline to take advantage of this opportunity, we may consider alternative measures,” the Members wrote. “Testifying before Congress is a serious endeavor, and the Committee relies on witnesses to be truthful at all times to assist our oversight efforts and ensure that the American people are well-served.”

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) contracted with CB&I to haul, install, and maintain manufactured housing units for Louisiana residents displaced from their homes following the devastating floods in Baton Rouge in August 2016.

During an Oversight committee hearing on April 5, 2017, Adm. Boone claimed that his company fully complied with all of its responsibilities under its contract with FEMA to provide housing units and maintenance to the victims of the historic 2016 flooding event in Baton Rouge. He testified that his company “did what was required by contract,” and that “we have received only positive comments and glowing accolades from FEMA at all levels about our performance under this task.”

“These claims are overwhelmingly contradicted by numerous documents obtained by the Committee,” the Members wrote. “These documents leave no doubt that your company received significant criticism from FEMA for failing to meet its contractual maintenance obligations and to properly staff and run the maintenance hotline—the lifeline that victims relied on to report problems with their housing units.”

Adm. Boone also testified that his company was not aware of any problems with malfunctioning thermostats until after Everett Wilson, an 84 year-old blind veteran, was killed by excessive heat due to a malfunctioning thermostat on October 25, 2016. 

However, documents obtained by the Committee show that CB&I knew from August 2016 that multiple thermostats were malfunctioning—some in a manner similar to the thermostat malfunction in Mr. Wilson’s housing unit.

The Oversight Committee Members released these documents in their letter today.

“During the hearing, you failed to take multiple opportunities offered by Members of the Committee to revise or retract your testimony in light of the facts included in these documents, many of which were provided to the Committee by your own company prior to your testimony,” they wrote.

The Members also raised concerns that CB&I’s legal representatives continue to refuse to comply the Committee’s request for financial records related to the company’s profits on the Baton Rouge task order.

Click here to read today’s letter, and click the links below to read the documents obtained by the Committee.

 


Documents Contradicting Adm. Boone’s Sworn Testimony:

 

  •                      On September 25, 2016, Carl Kahn, a FEMA manager, wrote to Kevin Neal, the Senior Project Manager at CB&I:  “[O]ur applicants have attempted to call the maintenance hotline (888-414-1989), and have been cut off repeatedly.  FEMA called to test it, and was also cut off.  The call center said it is an AT[&]T issue. ... Please get this corrected.”
  •                      On September 27, 2016, Robert Jones, FEMA’s Region VI Logistics External Support Branch Director, emailed Mr. Neal from CB&I:  “Please get your crews in line so that we are able to move forward with these issues with minimal issues.  Today, I am scrubbing my emails, and I have seen at least 20 problems with your subs.  Please drop the hammer on these guys because their performance does not look good on you and your reputation that you and your team has [sic] established.”
  •                      On September 29, 2016, Robert Ford from the FEMA Contract Management Section emailed Mr. Neal from CB&I:  “Kevin, please see below.  We are still getting reports about the communication between our survivors and CBI’s maintenance hotline.  Please sort this out, the survivors shouldn’t be treated unkindly for any reason.  The survivors need immediate help in most cases and not lectures or excuses that their needs can’t be met.”
  •                      On October 7, 2016, Thomas Dulin from CB&I emailed Mr. Neal and other CB&I officials about a meeting with Mr. Jones from FEMA:  “Robert Jones called me in and they are getting complaints about the Maint. #.  He told me that he called the Maint. # and spoke to Melanie, she told him that they are responsible for only 15% of the units.  She also said that FEMA should be ashamed of themselves because they know that they(D&D) can’t handle the calls and she is the only person taking the calls.  He asked that we get a handle on this and tighten it up.”
  •                      The same day, Mr. Neal from CB&I wrote to a CB&I subcontractor:  “Bill we can’t have this BS I don’t know who Melanie is but she needs to be told how to respond.  This isn’t going to help sell what we discussed.” 
  •                      On October 10, 2016, Mr. Kahn from FEMA emailed Mr. Neal at CB&I with the subject line “HOTLINE IS OUT OF COMPLIANCE WITH CONTRACT for the below URGENT Maintenance.”  He wrote:  “[T]his maintenance line is not answering as the message box is full.  The FEMA COR [contracting officer’s representative] tested the line, and this hotline is NOT functional per contract.  Rectify immediately and return the hotline in compliance of contract for emergency maintenance for contract.  Notify FEMA when this is rectified immediately.  This applicant has system stuck on heat at 99 deg for 2 days.”
  •                      On October 11, 2016, in response to the email from Mr. Kahn from FEMA, Mr. Neal from CB&I emailed Mr. Kahn:  “Carl verify that they called the right number and get back to me.” 
  •                      The same day, Mr. Ford from FEMA emailed Mr. Neal from CB&I:  “Kevin, we only have one number for maintenance.  All MHU occupants are given the same number.  Maintenance = 888 414 1989.  The issue is not the phone number, it’s the receptionist who doesn’t answer the phone.  The message box over fills and doesn’t allow a call for help to get through.  Carl tested the hot line last night and experienced the same thing.  This is our survivors lifeline ... and FEMA is disappointed in this hotline service.  It’s terribly inadequate and not in any way dependable.”
  •                      On October 11, 2016, Mr. Neal at CB&I conceded in an email with subcontractor Timberline Construction Group:  “We don’t have an 800 number that’s the issue.  The requirements are after first trailer is installed we need an 800 number for maintenance.  We got to have this number active today.  We’re getting hammered bad on this.” 
  •                      On October 12, 2016, Mr. Kahn at FEMA emailed Mr. Neal at CB&I:  “Kevin, it is for the contractor to notify the applicants what the maintenance hotline number is, and to ensure the hotline is staffed.  There should not be a recorder as evidenced by the CBI hotline number, 888-414-1989, being full and unable to take a message.  This is not per contract, does not serve the applicants for emergencies, and puts the contractor at risk to not respond to emergencies per contract.”
  •                      Citing data provided by CB&I to FEMA, on January 4, 2017, Mr. Kahn at FEMA emailed a FEMA federal coordinating officer describing that in December 2016, CB&I received 1,980 maintenance calls, but the “contractor only completed 198 of those, thus, 90 percent were not completed.”
  •                      On January 18, 2017, FEMA hand-delivered a “Letter of Concern” to CB&I expressing “concerns about your current trend of performance” and highlighting problems with “Completing & Reporting of backlog Maintenance work orders” and “Non-Response to repeat calls from FEMA applicants.”

 

Documents Showing CB&I Knew of Thermostat Problems before Mr. Wilson’s Death:

 

  •                      On August 9, 2016, CB&I’s subcontractor, D&D Emergency Services, emailed Mr. Neal and other CB&I officials that it had to perform an emergency maintenance call because a resident’s “Ac stopped working.”  He added:  “We had to replace her thermostat.”
  •                      On September 20, 2016, a CB&I employee emailed Mr. Neal at CB&I regarding pre-occupation checks at a separate trailer, reporting:  “[T]he thermostat isn’t working.” 
  •                      On October 10, 2016, as previously stated, Mr. Kahn from FEMA emailed Mr. Neal at CB&I to notify him that an “applicant has system stuck on heat at 99 deg for 2 days.”
  •                      The next day, Mr. Kahn from FEMA emailed Mr. Neal from CB&I again about this urgent call:  “Kevin, 20 hours and not [sic] reply since the applicant made her urgent call to the CBI CC.  CBI has not replied to the CORs [contracting officer’s representative’s] concern by either verbal (met w/John Mitchell about this yesterday afternoon) or by email (see below string).  This item will be referred to the FEMA CO [contracting officer] for disposition.”
  •                      Also on October 11, 2016, Mr. Kahn from FEMA emailed Mr. Means and Mr. Neal at CB&I to report an HVAC system on fire:  “[T]he fire department responded ... after the applicant called the maintenance hotline.  The CC hotline message machine was full.  This is contra-indicated by contract as the contract requires the CC hotline to be staffed.  Please ensure this CBI CC (and the one that will be used for the USACE units) will be staffed (no machine).  Emergencies are not being addressed per contract when this happens which puts your emergency timeliness at risk of being out of compliance as well.”
  •                      On October 17, 2016, the week before Mr. Wilson was killed, the chief executive of CB&I’s subcontractor, D&D Emergency Services, reported to Mr. Dulin, Mr. Neal, and Mr. Means at CB&I that an HVAC in a separate trailer was “only blowing heat” and that a technician had “bad thermostat replace [sic] with digital thermostat.”
  •                      On October 25, 2016—the day Mr. Wilson was killed—the CB&I maintenance number was disconnected for at least 24 hours, according to an email from Mr. Kahn of FEMA to several individuals, including Mr. Neal at CB&I.  Mr. Kahn emailed Mr. Neal and other FEMA officials that day:  “The 888 number below is the maintenance line for CBI installations but is not working now.  I just tried it a couple times.” 
  •                      On October 26, 2016, the day after Mr. Wilson was killed, the chief executive of CB&I’s subcontractor, D&D Emergency Services, emailed Mr. Means at CB&I:  “there are maintenance history [sic] on the bard ac units for 2011 2012 they are wired to have fan run all the time for fresh air this has been a [sic] issue and the Fan relay is a recommended remedy.”
  •                      Also on October 26, 2016, Mr. Means at CB&I emailed Mr. Kahn and others at FEMA:  “As a follow up, we have encountered a maintenance trend with these type [sic] of HVAC units many times especially on this mission.”
  •                      On October 28, 2016, Bill Hamlin, the chief executive at D&D Emergency Services, obtained a written statement from a CB&I technician who delivered a new thermostat to Mr. Wilson’s trailer for testing by FEMA and others to determine whether the wiring in the unit was defective:  “FEMA ask [sic] to see a thermostate [sic] once in his hands he keep it ask for it back said they needed it – he said a BARD (AC-brand) tech was going to install. … I have never enterd (sic) that trailer ever.” 
  •                      That same day, after reviewing the written statement by the CB&I Emergency Services technician, Mr. Neal of CB&I emailed D&D Emergency Services:  “Thanks Bill please keep this between CB&I unless asked for under a legal subpoena request.”
  •                      On October 29, 2016, Mr. Means at CB&I asked the chief executive of CB&I’s subcontractor, D&D Emergency Services, “How many thermostats have you changed out for DR4277 [sic]?”  In response, on October 29, 2019, Mr. Hamlin emailed Mr. Means at CB&I that they previously “changed 10 to 12” thermostats and that they make this change “when the AC is not turning off and on correctly.”
  •                      On October 29, 2016, an official at Timberline, another CB&I subcontractor, emailed Mr. Means at CB&I with a list of 13 addresses where it had to change defective thermostats.
  •                      In undated notes from a subsequent meeting with CB&I, a FEMA official documented CB&I’s claims at the meeting as follows:  “We have 965 RFOs [“ready for occupancy” inspections] 42 have required thermostat changes.  Half of the 42 were because batteries were not good or IMPROPER INSTALLATION AT at the factory or wires were crossed.  Other 21 were bad.  (undetermined) ... One sub has the bad thermostats.  We think they threw them away.  We are working to find them.”
115th Congress