Two $20 million contracts to maintain and eventually deactivate nearly 4,350 FEMA mobile homes set up in Louisiana after last year's floods are on hold for at least a month and possibly until mid-July after three companies protested the bid awards, federal online contracting records show.

The halt on the new mobile home maintenance contracts comes as congressional investigators have separately begun looking into the Federal Emergency Management Agency's mobile home program and work done by FEMA’s contractors.

Among other things, congressional investigators are examining the costs of the mobile home program, how it has been managed and how it has handled maintenance issues.

In October, an 84-year-old blind U.S. Air Force veteran "baked to death" in his FEMA trailer near Scotlandville because of a malfunctioning heating and air conditioning system that allowed temperatures inside to reach triple digits. His caregiver has said the heater hadn't been fixed despite repeated complaints for weeks. 

FEMA officials, citing federal confidentiality rules, would not discuss the bids on the maintenance contracts or why there were protests but said Thursday the contractor that has handled the mobile home program since the flood will continue to handle maintenance for the time being.

"The current contractor — CB&I — will continue service until this is resolved," FEMA spokesman Kurt Pickering said.

CB&I and two mobile home manufacturers for FEMA have been drawn into the crosshairs of an investigation led by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform and its chairman, U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah.

The new maintenance contract, which is supposed to phase out CB&I, has important consequences in the Baton Rouge area, which was hit hard in the August flood and has seen a proliferation of mobile homes to serve as temporary housing for flood victims.

As of Wednesday, 3,595 FEMA mobile homes were set up in East Baton Rouge, Ascension and Livingston parishes, 83 percent of all FEMA mobile homes statewide, according to agency figures. East Baton Rouge alone has 1,893.

American Native Veterans of Louisiana and Danny's AC, Heating and Electrical, two of the three Louisiana companies whose bids were passed over, filed protests earlier this month. Representatives of the two St. Tammany Parish-based companies said their bids were $5 million to $6 million less than those of the companies with the winning bids.

Though price wasn't the only factor considered by FEMA in awarding the bids, combined the two companies say they were about $11 million cheaper than the winning bidders.

FEMA awarded the new maintenance bids March 29 to Timberline Homes of Louisiana, a Lafayette branch of a southern Alabama-based company, and Andries and Associates, a Carencro-based company. Calls to the companies in Lafayette and Carencro were not returned by deadline Friday.

The contract is set up as a small business set aside for local companies. The companies have a six-month contract with three six-month extensions, but bid prices were for the full two years.

Timberline Homes of Louisiana won a contract with a bid of $20.2 million while Andries and Associates won a contract with its bid of $21.8 million, according to federal records available online.

The bids were higher than those submitted by American Native Veterans of Louisiana, which was $15.36 million, and Danny’s AC, $15.34 million.

Protests from American Native Veterans, Danny's AC and the third company, MLU Services Inc., were filed with the U.S. General Accounting Office in early April.

An Atlanta attorney for MLU Services declined comment. The Athens, Georgia-based company has a Louisiana office and touts on its website experience as a subcontractor that delivered and maintained FEMA trailers after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

It's not clear how many companies bid on the trailer contract or the range of their bids. FEMA said identifying companies and the amounts they bids would violate their proprietary rights and put them at a disadvantage if the contracts are re-bid.

Officials with American Native Veterans and Danny’s AC said their bids were scored unfairly because of an experience requirement that was added two months after bids were due on Dec. 12. The companies, which claim they had plenty of experience, weren't allowed to respond to the new requirement after the change was made.

"We were substantially lower in price, and we're definitely experienced and staffed and qualified to do the job, but that was not taken into account," said Aaron Lott, a project manager with Danny's AC who handled the Pearl River-based company's bid.

The experience requirement change was one of several made to the trailer contract.

Michael Wisner, owner of American Native Veterans of Louisiana, said a FEMA contracting officer informed him of the change in the experience requirement in an email on Feb. 17 and told him it would take effect immediately.

Just a day before Wisner got the email, congressional investigators working for Chaffetz's oversight committee had finished a two-day visit to Louisiana to review the FEMA mobile home program when they met with local, state and federal officials and uncovered Wilson's death, congressional correspondence says.

Since that visit, his committee has demanded records from CB&I and two trailer manufacturers. They have denied any wrongdoing.

David Boone, president of CB&I's federal contracting arm, also took a bipartisan tongue-lashing April 5 before the House oversight committee over the mobile home program.

Boone told the committee the company had received only glowing reviews from FEMA about its work on the mobile home program, adding his company has no record of maintenance calls from Wilson and didn't find out until three days after Wilson's body was found Oct. 25.

But committee members cited FEMA emails that said CB&I got more than 1,900 maintenance calls in December and responded to 10 percent of them. They read an email from a FEMA official urging CB&I to "drop the hammer" on its subcontractors due to their poor performance. Other committee members pointed out that FEMA trailers had the wrong telephone numbers on them for maintenance.

CB&I has been handling the delivery, installation and maintenance of mobile homes since the August flood under a broader task order contract with FEMA was awarded in May 2009, according to Boone's written statement to Chaffetz's committee. Much of the actual field work has been done by subcontractors, including trailer maintenance.

Gentry Brann, CB&I's spokeswoman, said Friday the company works with FEMA to consistently meet the trailer maintenance contract's terms. The terms include making contact with trailer residents within 48 hours of receiving a call for routine maintenance and within two hours for emergencies.

During the past three months, Brann said, CB&I responded to routine calls within 60 minutes on average and emergency calls within 52 minutes, surpassing both contract requirements.

"Since inception of the FEMA contract, the program has received 12,865 total maintenance calls and conducted an additional 15,778 preventative maintenance visits," Brann said.

Ralph White, GAO's managing associate general counsel for procurement law, said his agency has 100 calendar days from the time a bid protest has been filed to make a decision on a contract.

White said about half the protests the GAO receives each year are dispatched within the first 30 days through settlements or corrective actions by agencies. Of the roughly 2,700 protests filed in a given year, only around 600 end up where the GAO must make a final decision.

Follow David J. Mitchell on Twitter, @NewsieDave.