Take Homes from The Big Easy
As noted in an earlier post, I had spent much of the last few months preparing for a presentation that I was scheduled to give at the American Bar Association Public Contract Law Section’s 4th Annual State and Local Procurement Symposium. (That post, and a copy of the paper I presented, are accessible here).
The focus of this year’s conference was the regulatory and compliance struggles that are associated with public contracting before, during and after a disaster strikes.
It was a joy to be a part of the faculty for this event and to be in New Orleans – a city that is still working on its recovery from recent Hurricanes – for the very fast-paced and jammed-packed set of panels.
Without a doubt, a key theme that ran throughout the sessions was the value of advance planning – and better still, to have mature contracting and documentation systems in place that anticipate the very type of disasters that are likely to strike. This is because the federal regulatory structures on relief, recovery and reimbursement are so complex – and in many respects, inappropriate to the exigencies – that human suffering will be magnified greatly, and enormous financial losses for localities will follow, if the needed systems are not developed in advance.
Several of the speakers, with more than a little pathos, noted that even following the specific purchasing directions of federal officials will not prevent other or more superior officials of the Department of Homeland Security from later disallowing reimbursement applications from local governments.
The take-home advice from the experts was clear: Every state should have employees that speak “FEMA-ese;” the special dialect of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Not having several folks who are fluent in this special tongue can be enormously costly, and increase the time and local resources that are needed to recover after a disaster has struck.