Friday, September 16, 2005

Even Ghouls can get a No-Bid Contract.

Credit goes to my sister, Miriam, for alerting me about this story.

I wrote a post Wednesday questioning the handing out of no-bid construction contracts. But this is even worse.

According to Raw Story, the no-bid contract for collecting, identifying and disposing of bodies from Hurricane Katrina has been outsourced to a firm, Kenyon Interntational, which is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Service Corporation International, SCI, a funeral company with a long a sad record of breaking the law to dispose of bodies, some in very disturbing ways.

So how did SCI get the contract? Well, it began with FEMA (then under Michael Brown) who contacted the firm and began negotiations. Then, after the Department of Homeland Security finished negotiating the deal, Lousiana Governor Kathleen Blanco signed it.

From the story:

In other words, FEMA and then Blanco outsourced the body count from Hurricane Katrina -- which many believe the worst natural disaster in U.S. history -- to a firm whose parent company is known for its "experience" at hiding and dumping bodies.

For example, in 2002 , the state of Florida sued SCI and its Florida funeral home, Menorah gardens, because of accusations that occupied plots that were resold. It also affirms the most disturbing accusation: that a backhoe was used to crack open a vault to make room for another body. Pieces of Hyman Cohen's vault, burial shroud and remains were scattered in nearby woods in ''a field of wild hogs,'' according to the state.

After being taken to court, SCI paid $100,000,000 to the families of the deceased.

Then, SCI was one of several companies implicated in a a Georgia scandal involving the dumping of bodies in the woods by an unlicensed crematorium. In that scandal, it was also unearthed that 67 bodies were packed into a vault designed for one body.

No wonder we have this exchange from the Raw story article:

A secretary at the lawfirm that sued SCI over the Florida cemetery scandals gasped when informed that FEMA had outsourced handling of Katrina victims' bodies to an SCI subsidiary.

"Oh, good lord!" she said.

Now, we know what SCI's past record is. So why did they get the contract? Well, that relates to an ealier scandal, in Texas in 1998. To really understand the article, it is necessary to know what was then common knowledge in Texas-- that the relationship between SCI CEO Robert Waltrip and the Bush family goes way back. According to an article in the Washington Post about a judge's ruling that Bush, then running for President, would not personally have to testify in the case, Waltrip donated $45,000 to Bush's 1994 gubernatorial bid.

According to the article,

What began as a citizen's complaint against SCI in January 1998 has since grown into a scandal revolving around campaign contributions, and the influence they may buy. All of the politicos who intervened on SCI's behalf received major contributions from SCI's political action committee, or PAC. Did that money convince them to help SCI -- the world's largest death care company -- and to punish the agency that investigated SCI? Whether that was the reason or not, the state officials took positions that may hurt consumers. SCI's prices are routinely among the highest in the funeral business. One consumer advocate, Lamar Hankins, the president of the Funeral & Memorial Societies of America, says the company routinely engages in "price gouging." But campaign cash, not consumers, is at the heart of this scandal. And the scandal promises to grow as the lawsuit -- filed by former TFSC director Eliza May -- works through the discovery process. The suit alleges that May was fired because she "repeatedly and in good faith reported violations of the law and conduct that she reasonably believed to constitute violations of the law."

Now, a whistleblower was fired. And not even a whistleblower against the Bush administration, but rather a whistleblower against a company owned by a Bush friend. Man, what a feeling of deja vu I had when I read that.

So, they give a no-bid contract to a company owned by a Bush friend and which has a record of just getting rid of corpses to handle the bodies of Katrina victims. And, here is the kicker: we are paying SCI to do a job that local mortuaries had already agreed to do for no charge. At the end of the original article, we find:

Dan Buckner, co-owner of the Gowan-Smith Chapel in the Gulf area... had planned to serve with the Disaster Mortuary Operational Repsonses Team... Upon learning of Kenyon's contract, Buckner expressed puzzlement. He told the Shelbyville Times-Gazette, 'volunteers would have gone at no charge.

Aside from making the body count questionable, the selection of Kenyon and SCI is hardly reassuring to the victims of Katrina who may have lost loved ones in the disaster. At the very least, isn't it your right to expect that your family members will receive a decent burial?


dorsano said...

I doubt very much that current leadership will ever cut spending, whether it's for "faith based" welfare programs or corporate welfare programs or outsourcing contracts or red state subsidies.

They've been intoxicated by the power of the purse. So much for the Republican Oath.

Eli Blake said...

Oh, they will cut it, but you are right it won't be for that. I had a good conversation tonight with a young man who is a park ranger, and the word is already out since Katrina that they can expect yet another round of budget cuts.