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Schaer: Time to Stop Passing the Buck in Sandy Recovery Process

Assembly Budget Chair Calls for Stricter Oversight & Transparency after Repeated Mishandling of Rebuilding Contracts

Assembly Budget Committee Chair Gary S. Schaer released the following statement Monday after his committee questioned the state Department of Community Affairs’ over its handling of contracts for Sandy-related recovery and rebuilding efforts, which have been plagued by complaints from home and business owners:

“The faith I once had in the Christie administration’s ability to lead the Sandy recovery process has slowly been replaced by deep and troubling concerns over repeated missteps.

“When concerns were first raised over the debris removal contract entered into with Ashbritt more than a year ago, most had hoped this questionable practice was a solitary incident. Sadly, that doesn’t appear to be the case.

“We have now seen the firm Hammerman and Gainer (HGI) dismissed amid a litany of troubling complaints. The biggest question that looms unanswered is why this firm should be paid almost $40 million for their $68 million, three-year contract when they completed just seven months of work during which time they only disbursed approximately $200 million of the almost $1 billion in federal funds allocated for recovery projects.

“Today we also learned that a firm plagued by complaints for its handling of Katrina recovery efforts has been hired to replace HGI, a move that does not summon much confidence.

“Throughout these decisions, cabinet departments have failed to provide us with answers, instead choosing to pass the buck. First we were told by the Treasurer that these responsibilities fall to the Department of Community Affairs (DCA) and today we’ve been told by DCA that they fall to the Treasurer. This does not look like openness and transparency.

“Our priority, especially more than a year and a half after Sandy hit, should be making sure homeowners are taken care of, not contractors. This is why the legislature passed a law requiring integrity monitors to oversee these contracts.

“To then find out that the administration dragged its feet for almost a year in putting these integrity monitors in place is all the more unsettling.

“There can be no more room for error in this process. We need stricter oversight to eliminate incompetence and waste. Homeowners and small business owners still struggling to get back on their feet deserve transparency, fairness and the peace of mind knowing their government is putting their needs first,” said Schaer (D-Bergen/Passaic).