Saturday, October 01, 2005

U.S. pays 10 times usual cost of roof fix - Hurricane-repair handling criticized

NEW ORLEANS | Across the hurricane ravaged Gulf Coast, thousands upon thousands of blue tarps are being nailed to wind-damaged roofs, a visible sign of government assistance.

The blue sheeting - a godsend to residents whose homes are threatened by rain - is rapidly becoming the largest roofing project in the nation's history.

It isn't coming cheap.

Knight Ridder has found that a lack of oversight, generous contracting deals and poor planning mean that government agencies are shelling out as much as 10 times what the temporary fix would normally cost.

The government is paying contractors an average of $2,480 for less than two hours of work to cover each damaged roof - even though it's also giving them endless supplies of blue sheeting free.

"This is absolute highway robbery, and it really does show that the agency doesn't have a clue in getting real value of contracts," said Keith Ashdown, vice president for Taxpayers for Common Sense, noting that he recently paid $3,500 for a new permanent roof. "I've done the math in my head 100 times, and I don't know how they computed this cost."

As many as 300,000 homes in Louisiana alone may need roof repairs, and as the government attempts to cover every salvageable roof by the end of October, the bill could reach hundreds of millions of dollars.

The amount the government is paying to tack down blue tarps, which are designed to last three months, raises major questions about how little taxpayers may be getting for their money as contractors line up at the government trough for billions of dollars in repair and reconstruction contracts.

Steve Manser, the president of Simon Roofing and Sheet Metal of Youngstown, Ohio, which was awarded an initial $10 million contract to begin "Operation Blue Roof" in New Orleans, acknowledged that the price his company is charging to install blue tarps could pay for shingling an entire roof.

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