GAO Looking Into Faulty Corps Pumps Installed In New Orleans

Wednesday, March 28th 2007, 5:37 pm
By: News On 6

NEW ORLEANS (AP) _ Government Accountability Office investigators are meeting with Army Corps of Engineers officials to ask questions about drainage pumps that were installed before last year's hurricane season even though they apparently were defective.

The pumps were produced by a Florida company under a $26.6 million contract awarded after Hurricane Katrina. They provide flood protection by draining water from this largely below sea level city.

An engineer for the Corps working on the pumps project warned in a spring 2006 memo that the machinery had problems that likely would keep them from performing under hurricane conditions. Last year was a mild hurricane season, so the pumps were not tested in an emergency scenario.

Anu Mittal, the GAO's director for water resources, said a large team of investigators has been assembled to ``expeditiously'' satisfy a request by U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu.

Landrieu, D-La., has asked the GAO, Congress' investigative and auditing arm, to investigate if there was improper influence in the way the pumps contract was awarded and handled. She also wants to know what danger the pumps posed to New Orleans, and the Corps' rationale for installing them.

Mittal said the GAO is considering Landrieu's questions and is aiming to have a report to her by the middle of May, but would not guarantee it.

The Corps did not immediately respond to questions on Wednesday. Since the memo was disclosed two weeks ago the Corps has insisted that the pumps would have worked if they had been pressed into service last year and that the city was never in danger of flooding.

The Corps has said it decided to install the pumps, and then fix the machinery while it was in place, believing that some pumping capacity was better than none. And it defended the manufacturer, which was under time pressure.

The pumps were manufactured by Moving Water Industries Corp., a Deerfield Beach, Fla., company owned by J. David Eller and his sons. Eller was once a business partner of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush in a venture called Bush-El that marketed MWI pumps.

The U.S. Justice Department sued the company in 2002, accusing it of fraudulently helping Nigeria obtain $74 million in taxpayer-backed loans for overpriced and unnecessary water-pump equipment. The case has yet to be resolved.

Since the pumps were installed, the corps and MWI have struggled to get the heavy-duty pumps to work properly; they have been pulled out and overhauled because of excessive vibration, Corps officials said. Other problems have included overheated engines, broken hoses and blown gaskets, according to the Corps memo last year.