Congress has ordered two mobile home manufacturers to turn over documents related to August's floods as it investigates the Federal Emergency Management Agency's response to the disaster in Louisiana.
In a letter, a Utah congressman said the two companies — Lexington Homes Inc. and Scotbilt Homes, Inc. — provided many of the trailers after the flood and had especially high rates of maintenance complaints. However, one contractor disputed the claim, pointing to a statement from FEMA that indicates the agency is still reviewing data.
The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform has dispatched staff to Louisiana and performed its own investigation of FEMA and its various post-disaster housing programs, especially the use of trailers. The committee this week asked several companies involved in the efforts for contracts, records of communications with FEMA, maintenance records and other documents related to the flood.
The congressional committee has also ordered the construction, engineering and consulting company CB&I to turn over its records relating to the transportation, installation and maintenance of mobile homes used by FEMA.
In February, Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) wrote a letter questioning FEMA's actions and demanding the agency release many documents about its flood response.
Among other issues, he has pointed to the death of Everett Wilson, who succumbed after overheating in a trailer with a broken air unit. Chaffetz and local Congressman Garret Graves have also criticized what they described as a generally slow and sloppy deployment of mobile homes.
"It’s amazing the number of calls we still get every day — seven months after the flood — from people still in need of an trailer or looking for answers about why it’s taking so long for theirs to get delivered or wired," Graves wrote in a Wednesday statement to The Advocate.
“Many of these people have homes that have literally been condemned, but FEMA won’t or 'can’t' authorize a trailer — it’s ridiculous. The soup to nuts cost of the (manufactured housing unit) operation is exorbitant, and taxpayers aren’t getting their money’s worth."
ScotBilt General Manager Dale Gilliland defended the company, saying its products were not connected to Wilson's death and that they had not heard about any complaints until they received Chaffetz's letter Tuesday. Scotbilt officials contacted FEMA and said they were told the agency hasn't yet fully investigated the complaints or possible defects with mobile homes.
Gilliland said FEMA told him that "the thought that ScotBilt's quality is sub-par compared to other vendors is (an) unfair and possibly inaccurate assumption at this point."
A FEMA official neither confirmed nor denied the quote.
Deputy Director Eileen Lainez said the agency is complying with the oversight committee's document requests.
Asked if FEMA has changed any of its post-disaster housing programs since the flood, Lainez responded that the agency "is always evaluating the effectiveness of our programs and taking steps to continuously improve coordination, to ensure that survivors affected by disasters are returned to homes that are safe, secure, and functional, as soon as possible."
Graves said he remains disappointed in FEMA’s response to the flooding in Louisiana.
"These inefficiencies are more than frustrating — they're wrong. They add insult to injury and re-victimize honest people whose lives have already been flipped upside down," he wrote.
Lexington officials did not return calls for comment. A CB&I representative referred all questions to FEMA.