Fleets say FEMA is hiring drivers away

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Some truckers say the industry’s restart in Louisiana in the wake of Hurricane Katrina is being stifled because truckers are taking temporary, higher-paying jobs offered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency instead of returning to their old employers.

Instead of hauling their usual loads, many truckers are being paid by FEMA to haul waste and debris out of New Orleans and to haul recovery supplies back into the city.

Camille Carnaggio owns Belmont Lumber, about 35 miles outside New Orleans, and his son, Eric Carnaggio, hauls for him. Both have heard of truckers being paid triple and double by FEMA to haul into the Big Easy.

“You can haul a roof out of Texas that is bound for Louisiana, and that is normally about $550 a load, and from what we understand is that FEMA is paying them $1,500 a load,” the elder Carnaggio said. “Our suppliers tell us this.”

Truckers are working for the government because the pay “is higher than the jobs these drivers had for local motor carriers,” said Curtis Whalen, executive director of the American Trucking Associations’ Intermodal Motor Carriers Conference.

“And they are giving them free fuel,” Whalen added. “It seems to be an unfortunate policy difference, where drivers are in short supply, and they aren’t going back to their jobs. They are going back to FEMA.”

Many local hauling companies could deal with the pay increase alone, Whalen said. The offer of free fuel, however, is one that local companies can’t match and that truckers can’t pass up, he said.

“We are trying to get the city and the port on its feet, but it’s like the government is trying to undermine our effort,” Whalen said.

Attempts to reach FEMA representatives for comment were unsuccessful.

Meanwhile, stung by criticism of large contracts going to a few well-placed companies without competitive bidding, the federal government is seeking to involve more small companies, including trucking fleets, in the rebuilding effort.

The U.S. Small Business Administration and the U.S. General Services Administration have set up a toll-free number, 800-333-4636, to tell business owners about contracting and rebuilding opportunities. More than 190,000 calls already have come in, said M.J. Pizzella, associate administrator of GSA’s Office of Citizen Services and Communications.

“The GSA’s contact center will serve as a resource for small businesses to learn about contracting opportunities, and I look forward to working with SBA and the federal interagency community to do whatever is necessary to rebuild the Gulf Coast,” Pizzella said.

The two agencies also created a website, www.rebuildingthegulfcoast.gov, to tell people about small-business opportunities in the hurricane recovery effort. At the site, visitors can:

  • Learn about different types of contracts available to them.
  • Learn how to register to do business with the federal government.
  • Obtain specific federal and state contact information.

    “We want to make sure small businesses have the opportunity to seek federal contracting dollars,” said U.S. Small Business Administrator Hector Barreto. “We are pleased to partner with GSA and other federal agencies to make interested small businesses aware of all possible contracting opportunities.”