As fifth anniversary of Hurricane Sandy approaches, Stringer calls for new ‘fiscal resiliency’ measures to better serve victims and taxpayers in emergencies

(New York) – As the fifth anniversary of Superstorm Sandy approaches, New York City Comptroller Scott M. Stringer today released a new report and seven-point plan to save taxpayer dollars, prevent price-gouging on contracts, and ensure that New Yorkers get the help they deserve after an emergency. Drawing on lessons from the aftermath of Sandy, Comptroller Stringer called for fiscal preparedness measures and strategies – which can be implemented now – to save money in the event of a future emergency situation. The new report today, Fiscal Resiliency: Reforming New York City’s Emergency Procurement System before the Next Storm, recommends ways to leverage the purchasing power of the city, negotiate costs in advance, and reform emergency procurement.

“Let there be no doubt that with the realities of climate change, a future Sandy is coming. To be ready for the next storm, we have to learn the lessons from the last one. That’s what this report is all about. Just as we must fortify our shorelines and fiscal infrastructure, and our goal here is to think ahead to promote smart, concrete, substantive steps that can be taken today to save taxpayers down the road,” said New York City Comptroller Scott M. Stringer. “This isn’t about laying blame for the past, but it’s instead about planning for the future. Leveraging our buying power as a government will allow us to spend money where it matters most – not on profits for contractors, but on New Yorkers, their homes, their schools, and their communities. We believe that when it comes to emergency contracting, the best preparation is with sunlight and with transparency. This is realistic roadmap for the future both for New York and for any city facing an emergency.”

To quickly secure goods and services during unforeseen crises, emergency procurements are an essential tool for the City. Emergency procurements, unlike many other procurement methods, can be made with limited competition, enabling the City to act quickly when emergency circumstances arise. However, emergency contracting postpones many of the vendor integrity or competitive pricing requirements that characterize the City’s normal contracting process, possibly resulting in higher costs or inferior services. In its response to Superstorm Sandy, the City sought authorization for over $1.3 billion in emergency spending for a wide array of goods and services.

To avoid overreliance on emergency contracts and to address several of the procurement challenges which arose from the City’s response to Sandy, Comptroller Stringer has laid out a seven-point plan the City can implement to prepare for a future emergency situation, foster transparency, and enhance accountability:

  1. Develop and publish a citywide procurement plan: Emergency procurements can drastically raise the prices of common goods and services compared to normal procurements. For instance, an emergency contract for portable toilets during Sandy cost more than 90% more than a normal procurement and an emergency contract for road salt executed during the 2013-2014 winter cost more than 285% than comparable procurements. By planning ahead for emergency needs, the City can build capacity to respond to disasters through normal, competitive procurements. The emergency contracting plan should draw on the expertise of multiple agencies and should extend beyond basic items such as water and blankets to more difficult procurements like social services, telecommunication, construction, transportation, and temporary office space, and housing.
  2. Develop a more robust catalogue of requirements or ‘on-call’ contracts: Specifically, there must be a catalogue of on-call contracts for the procurement of emergency goods and services that the City can access in the event of an emergency. On-call contracts allow the City to pre-negotiate rates for specific goods and services that could be needed in an emergency, creating a more cost-effective and reliable pipeline of help in advance of any disaster.
  3. Include “Emergency Contract Riders” – or emergency-specific provisions – allowing access to select services under existing citywide contracts to be activated in an emergency situation: Such language would allow the City the flexibility to access goods and services from existing contracts and a universe of proven responsive and responsible vendors.
  4. Learn from complications arising from the City’s Rapid Repairs program and develop an improved model for a home repair program that can be launched when disaster strikes: The City should create a framework for a future home repair program, including model contracts which can be bid out in the immediate aftermath of a storm or disaster, to avoid some of the confusion around billing that came to define the City’s Rapid Repairs program in the months and years after the storm. By memorializing contract terms, scope of work, program requirements, and oversight authority ahead of an emergency, the City can guard against poor-quality work, delayed payments to vendors, and disagreements over billing.
  5. Cooperate more efficiently on the state, regional and national levels to pool contracts and create resources: Doing so would exponentially expand the universe of goods and services New York would have access to in an emergency and will harness the collective buying power of the government by working together.
  6. Increase oversight and transparency by requiring periodic emergency contract updates, instituting new training curriculums, and striving for early registration of contract. While emergency contracts should be the last resort of agencies, several steps can be taken to guard against waste or mismanagement. When agencies quickly enter into emergency contracts, they can unintentionally fail to implement crucial accountability measures that protect the interests of taxpayers.
  7. Establish protocols to expand the use of P-Cards – or City-issued credit cards – in the event of an emergency: Such an expansion should go beyond the current low dollar thresholds with an appropriate level of corresponding oversight, to provide vendors immediate payment for services rendered during emergencies. This would allow for on-the-spot procurement decisions to be made by first responders and recovery officials, while also providing an electronic, real-time record of purchases for later tracking.

The urgency for strategic planning has only been magnified in the devastating aftermath of recent hurricanes that have leveled Puerto Rico, Houston, Florida, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

To read the Comptroller’s full report, click here.