Published February 16, 2010
The U.S. Agency for International Development has awarded another lucrative no-bid contract, Fox News has learned -- this time to a "politically connected" lobbyist and high-profile friend of former President Bill Clinton.
This marks the second no-bid contract the agency has been found to have awarded since the start of the year, despite a long history of vows by President Obama to crack down on the practice. The first, awarded on Jan. 4 and worth nearly $25 million, was steered to a firm owned by a donor to the Obama presidential campaign, for legal work in Afghanistan. The cancellation of that contract was announced by the State Department shortly after Fox News reported its existence on Jan. 25.
USAID's latest no-bid contract, worth close to $100,000, was awarded on Jan. 18 to the GlobalOptions Group for work in earthquake-stricken Haiti, where Clinton is the U.N. special envoy and is helping to lead private fundraising efforts.
Described as an "integrated risk management" firm, GlobalOptions is headquartered in Manhattan's Rockefeller Plaza and boasts 10 offices across the U.S. The GlobalOptions subsidiary that executed the contract is James Lee Witt Associates (JLWA), the "emergency preparedness and management" consulting firm founded by the former director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) under President Clinton.
While heading up JLWA, Witt is also a registered lobbyist, headquartered in Washington, D.C. Among his clients are the city of Little Rock, Ark., and its airport commission, from which JLWA received at least $120,000 last year; Allstate; and telecommunications giant Sprint Nextel.
Witt and Clinton go back more than two decades. As governor of Arkansas in 1988, Clinton first tapped Witt, then a county judge, to serve as chief of the state's emergency preparedness agency. JLWA's two vice chairmen are retired U.S. Army General Wesley Clark, who served as Supreme Commander of NATO in Europe during the Clinton presidency, and Rodney Slater, the secretary of transportation under President Clinton. On Feb. 5, during his most recent trip to Haiti, the former president was photographed at the Port-au-Prince airport standing beside Andrew Sachs and Mark Merritt, two JLWA executives.
According to documentation prepared this year for the Federal Procurement Data System and obtained by Fox News, the USAID contract called for GlobalOptions to receive $99,725 to perform 11 days' worth of work in Haiti. An Excel spreadsheet listing federal contracts awarded in connection with the quake states that GlobalOptions was to provide USAID by Jan. 30 with an "initial assessment report" on the American response and recovery effort, along with an "in-country advance team" whose duties were unspecified.
The document further states that the contract was awarded under "full and open competition after exclusion of sources," a phrase one high-ranking former USAID official told Fox News was a euphemism for a no-bid contract. A congressional source characterized the phrase, and this contract, as equivalent to: "We're going to have a full and open competition in which we write the details only to fit you."
For eight months prior to the earthquake, JLWA personnel were already in Haiti, working on disaster preparedness programs aimed at educating Haitian women. In published reports the company alternately said its pre-quake work in Haiti was taking place "under a United Nations special envoy" and was "tied to the Clinton Global Initiative" (CGI). Former President Clinton was appointed the U.N. special envoy for Haiti in May 2009. CGI is the non-partisan group the former president established in 2005 to "help turn ideas into action," as its Web site states.
According to the Web site, CGI "does not provide funding directly to our member's (sic) commitments," but instead "acts as a marketplace that matches ideas, resources, and knowledge" and "facilitates effective partnerships." This could well have been the role played by CGI in this case. Although no evidence has surfaced suggesting that former President Clinton personally intervened to help JLWA secure any federal contracts, Rep. Mark Kirk, the Illinois Republican who sits on the House Appropriations Committee, has written to USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah requesting more details on how the Jan. 18 contract came to be awarded to a "politically-connected" firm "lacking decades of experience in the field."
"While recognizing the need for cooperation with the private sector in rebuilding Haiti, I am nevertheless concerned that the selection process may not have met USAID's rigorous partnering guidelines," Kirk wrote in the Feb. 16 letter, obtained by Fox News. "We know of over half a dozen recognized relief organizations with extensive experience in Haiti. Both JLWA and GlobalOptions do not fit that level of experience or expertise. ... I ask you to provide full details of ... the relevant USAID guidelines that were used to exclude more experienced non-governmental relief organizations in favor of the more politically-connected JLWA to assist in Haiti relief efforts."
Neither USAID nor CGI responded to requests for comment. A spokesperson for JLWA told Fox News the firm's work in Haiti prior to the earthquake was done for CGI on a pro-bono basis. The spokesperson also confirmed that JLWA received the short-term $100,000 federal contract, but does not presently have any contracts or commitments with either CGI or USAID.
Reached earlier, JLWA spokesperson Kim Fuller told Fox News the firm "is looking for further work" with USAID in Haiti, and had prepared the Jan. 18 contract as a "model" that could be re-used in order to "avoid the bid process" in time-sensitive cases like the Haiti quake.
Fuller also suggested the crisis atmosphere in the quake zone outweighed the need for USAID to abide by the terms of the memorandum Obama circulated last March imposing tougher guidelines for the contracting process.
"I think with emergency situations, the Obama call for no no-bid contracts might not be an issue," Fuller wrote in an e-mail to Fox News. "We don't believe that we were hired under a 'no bid' contract," she stated in a second e-mail, contending the mechanisms used by USAID in this case rendered the term inapt. "The help was needed immediately and this is how the process panned out."
Fuller said Witt donated extraordinary amounts of his own time and resources to the relief and recovery efforts mounted in the wake of the 2004 tsunami. "We did all of that for free," she said in a telephone interview with Fox News. "We didn't get one dime."
Likewise, she said Witt happened to have been meeting with Shah on Jan. 11, the day before the earthquake struck Haiti, at Shah's request. When the quake hit, Shah asked Witt to return to USAID for further discussions about how JLWA might be of service.
"We want to help you," Fuller quoted her boss as telling Shah in their second meeting. "It wasn't in terms of a contract."