Congressman Faleomavaega announced today that in a letter dated April 20, 2010 he has requested the support and assistance of Chairman Bennie Thompson of the Committee on Homeland Security and Chairwoman Laura Richardson of the Homeland Security Subcommittee on Emergency Communications, Preparedness, and Response to conduct a full review of allegations reported by the Associated Press regarding the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Inspector General’s report about the cost of a pilot project to build housing in American Samoa in the aftermath of the deadly tsunami that struck the Territory on September 29, 2009.
The complete text of Faleomavaega’s letter to Chairman Thompson which was also copied to Chairwoman Richardson is included below:
Dear Mr. Chairman:
I am writing to request an immediate review of allegations reported by the Associated Press (AP) regarding the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Inspector General’s report about the cost of a pilot project to build housing in American Samoa in the aftermath of the deadly tsunami that struck the Territory on September 29, 2009.
According to media reports, FEMA hired Partnership for Temporary Housing to build as many as eight homes for up to $3.9 million, or an average of $487,500 each, although the Army Corps of Engineers estimates that construction should be at about $140,000 to $160,000 for a two- or three-bedroom model.
While the Development Bank of American Samoa loans applicants approximately $40,000 to build a two-bedroom home and about $60,000 to build a three-bedroom home, I am troubled that the federal government allegedly offered residents whose homes were destroyed two options – financial assistance of up to $30,000 or a two- or three-bedroom home, depending on family size.
As of February 16, 2010, the report states that 179 residents chose the money while 56 selected a home. Were those who accepted only $30,000 of financial assistance made aware that their homes could be fully replaced?
Prior to awarding a contract, did FEMA do due diligence in determining exactly how much it would cost to construct a home in American Samoa? Does it cost $40,000, $60,000, $160,000, or more?
Who chose Partnership for Temporary Housing as the contractor of choice? To my knowledge, Partnership for Temporary Housing has never built a home in American Samoa. In fact, when my office contacted FEMA yesterday, I was informed that the company had built military housing in Hawaii and North Carolina. My office asked FEMA to clarify whether or not that meant barracks or residential homes. FEMA was unable to clarify. FEMA is also unable to inform my office as to why local contractors were not allowed to participate in the reconstruction process.
FEMA has assured me that it will provide my office with answers as the answers become available but, in the interim, I believe FEMA’s response to the DHS Inspector General’s memo raises enough concern to warrant an inquiry. In a memo of March 30, the IG noted that FEMA had hired Partnership for Temporary Housing to build eight homes at a cost of $3.9 million but FEMA later responded that only three homes would be built and that the costs of each of the three homes would be used to set the contract costs for all the remaining homes.
This implies that FEMA has to establish a pilot program to determine the costs of construction in American Samoa. The fact that FEMA has to establish a pilot program to determine the costs of construction suggests that neither Partnership for Temporary Housing nor FEMA knows how to respond effectively to the present needs of those in American Samoa who need homes now.
This is why I am respectfully requesting your assistance for a thorough review of FEMA’s construction authority and, above all, I want to make sure that the residents of American Samoa who have opted to accept the $30,000 in financial assistance are fully compensated for the true cost of construction of a new home, whatever that might be.
By way of this letter, I am also copying Congresswoman Laura Richardson, Chair of the Subcommittee on Emergency Communications, Preparedness and Response, to also ask for her support. In the aftermath of the tsunami, Chairwoman Richardson visited our islands and worked side by side with me side to provide relief and support to the people of American Samoa and Samoa. With many Samoans living in her district and as a result of her tireless efforts in our behalf, she has become part of our extended family. I have no doubt that she will do all she can do to hold FEMA accountable and to make sure that the people of American Samoa are treated fairly in the reconstruction process.
At this time, I would also like to ask for your guidance in waiving the federal match for American Samoa as it pertains to tsunami recovery efforts. American Samoa’s fragile economy cannot absorb the excessive costs brought on by reconstruction, not even at a 90% federal, 10% local match ratio. It is my understanding that the FEMA Administrator may have the authority to waive the match and, if this is the case, I am hopeful that you and Chairwoman Richardson will join me in requesting that the match be waived.
As you may know, American Samoa is a single-industry economy almost entirely dependent on the tuna fishing and processing industry. More than 80% of our private-sector economy has hinged on two tuna canneries, StarKist and Chicken of the Sea, which employed almost 74% of our private-sector workforce. On September 30, 2009, only one day after our islands were hit by the most powerful earthquake of 2009 that set off a tsunami with waves towering over 20 feet tall, Chicken of the Sea closed its operations in American Samoa after doing business in the Territory for more than 50-years. StarKist is now barely hanging on due to increased competition from foreign countries that pay their fish cleaners $0.75 cents and less per hour.
The Congressman concluded his letter by stating, “During this critical stage in our process of rebuilding, your support of waiving the matching requirement for American Samoa either by discretionary authority or legislatively, if necessary, would be most helpful to our recovery efforts. As always, I thank you for all you do and look forward to working with you to resolve these issues.”