County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz on Wednesday formally responded to a revised federal audit that criticized the county for failing to ensure “full and open competition” when it selected contractors to clear debris after the October 2006 surprise storm.
In a letter to both the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Poloncarz called for the audit to be withdrawn. He also took exception to new findings in the revised audit that accused the county of failing to take steps that would have assured the participation of minority- and women-owned businesses during the cleanup. He said those allegations were not included in any prior audit.
“This response letter provides a clear and concise refutation of the flawed findings of the OIG audit and demonstrates that Erie County acted appropriately at each step of the cleanup process after the October storm,” he said in a statement Wednesday on the county executive’s webpage.
In the inspector general’s initial audit released in January, the county was criticized for the way it spent disaster aid after the surprise snowstorm. In response to the audit’s calls for the county to pay back $48 million to FEMA, county officials dug up federal law in support of a decision by then-County Executive Joel A. Giambra to limit contractors to local companies. County officials also assured the federal government that they could provide more paperwork for $9 million in undocumented expenses.
In his response to the revised audit that was released at the end of March, Poloncarz charged that the inspector general had repudiated its own major finding from the original audit and “created multiple new, heretofore previously unstated reasons and alleged factors in demanding that the county repay FEMA $39.4 million.”
The Office of Inspector General, Poloncarz added, published the revised audit only after the county proved the federal office wrong on its facts and wrong on the law in its original audit.
Among arguments made in the county executive’s letter is the contention that the Office of Inspector General failed to comply with the provisions of the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act regarding disaster closeout procedures and that it failed to follow auditing procedures as specified in Government Auditing Standards, denying the county basic due process.
Poloncarz also argued that, based on FEMA’s August 2010 response rejecting findings in a similar Office of Inspector General audit of the City of Buffalo regarding its response to the same storm, the county should likewise be held harmless.
In addition, the county executive castigated the federal office for releasing claims in the revised audit to The Buffalo News three weeks before the county had a chance to respond.
“The lack of professionalism and basic fairness by highly trained federal officials can only raise questions about the motives and standards that were in play throughout audits,” Poloncarz wrote.