How contractors can get disaster cleanup work in Harvey recovery efforts

The final damage estimates are still being calculated, but there’s little doubt the clean up after Harvey will be massive.

The storm made its initial landfall Aug. 25 on the Texas Gulf Coast as a Category 4 hurricane, and in the early hours of Aug. 30 made a second landfall as a tropical storm. Pounding Texas with more than 50 inches of rain, the National Weather Service says Harvey has set a preliminary record for the most rainfall measured from a single storm in the continental U.S.  Although FEMA, state and local procurement offices have likely reached out to the already-registered contractors it knows that can do this type of work, the level of needs will probably prompt these agencies to cast a wide net for available contractors.

But to get a FEMA contract, your company first must be registered with the System for Award Management (SAM), which took over the functions of FEMA’s former Debris Removal Contractor Registry. SAM, says FEMA, combines federal procurement systems and the Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance into one system. Created in 2012, an active SAM registration is required to do business with the federal government. The SAM Service Desk at 866-606-8220 is available to answer questions regarding the SAM process. (When we reached out to them, we found them helpful.)

SAM-registered companies are assigned a Commercial and Government Entity (CAGE) code, a five-character Identification used within the federal government, which is issued by the Department of Defense Logistics Agency to identify a specific facility at a specific location. The CAGE code is connected to the SAM registration, which must be renewed each year.

But FEMA says its goal is to “seek local companies within the disaster area for goods and services related to a specific disaster when practical and feasible.” The U.S. Corps of Engineers, which is tasked with helping FEMA with debris removal in disasters, will also likely be issuing contracts. We have reached out to the Corps to get further details on their contracts, and will update this information when we do.

FEMA also suggests that contractors pursue state opportunities since federal grants to states “make up half an agency’s budget in some cases.” In Texas, the lead agency is the Texas Division of Emergency Management; in Louisiana, the Louisiana Office of Emergency Preparedness. The Texas agency sent us to Texas Comptroller’s Office, which maintains a Centralized Master Bidders List. There’s a $70 application fee.

Fee-based registry

Instead of going through the SAM registry process on your own, another route is to use the services of a fee-based “professional registry service.” FEMA states: “There are companies that replicate services of the Federal Government entities and there are typically fees associated with their services. Most Federal Government services, if not all, are free of charge. Always make it a practice to reach out to the appropriate Federal agency first to inquire about the validity of the service, specifically if a fee is associated with it.”

To anyone who’s dealt with federal paperwork hoops, however, the sales pitch on these registry services can be compelling, especially in a time-sensitive environment such as disaster relief. One such service is the U.S. Federal Contractor Registration Service (USFCR). “Instead a process that can take four to eight weeks, we gather all your information, and can get your SAM registration done in 10 to 12 days,” says Huff Bhatia, acquisition specialist with USFCR. The cost is $599 a year.

“It’s only a 15- to 20-minute process to fill everything out,” Bhatia says. “We know what information is needed to put your best foot forward,” such as making sure your company is identified with the right NAICS (North American Industry Classification System) code.

And since the cost is on a per-year basis, Bhatia says his firm makes sure contractors keep their registrations current, a yearly task that can slip by busy contractors. “That way, they’re always in compliance.”

Insurance companies

According to the Insurance Information Institute, most insurance companies maintain a list of approved private contractors they then share with their policy holders in a claim situation. These approved contractor lists are not shared with the public. Now is the time to get on these lists, assuming you meet each company’s qualifications.

To get on a list, the Institute suggests contractors call the insurance companies and ask to be directed to the “property repair program” in the claims department. Each company will have its own requirements for insurance, bonding, etc.