Companies compete for Haiti cleanup contracts

some questioned whether AshBritt’s political donations or lobbyists paved the way for its fat federal contracts. The lobbyists have included: Barbour Griffith & Rogers, a firm founded by Mississippi governor Haley Barbour; Mike Parker, a former Mississippi Republican congressman who also was a senior official with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; and Ron Book, a South Florida power broker.

Congressional hearings after Katrina aired objections that local contractors were passed over in favor of AshBritt. A 2006 congressional report examining federal contract waste and abuse noted AshBritt used multiple layers of subcontractors, each of whom got paid while passing on the actual work to others.

DRC, meanwhile, was also quick to react to the potential for new business in Haiti. It had people on the ground in Haiti within 36 hours after the 12 January quake. Since then, it has been helping Haitian officials and also made a charter plane available to help in relief efforts.

DRC, whose Haiti headquarters is a squat, yellow building off one of Port-au-Prince’s main thoroughfares, has been helping in the sensitive task of removing bodies and debris at the Hotel Montana, where dozens of aid workers, college students and U.N. employees died. It also has done work at bank sites around the city.

We’ve been asked to do quite a few sites for demolition and the recovery of victims,” said Isakson, a former FBI agent. “It’s a daunting task. It’s far from the normal disaster. It’s more delicate. The victims’ families want to come to the site and have closure.”

DRC, which has been in Haiti for several years and built a campsite used for the construction of the U.S. embassy in the capital, has teamed up with V&F Construction, one of Haiti’s largest road builders and part of the Vorbe Group, which is run by a powerful Haitian family. Isakson said the company’s current work is modest, including setting up generators, toilets and showers.

Meanwhile, Bergeron Emergency Services, part of J. R. Bergeron’s Bergeron Land Development in Pembroke Pines, is already running ads to hire heavy equipment operators and project managers to do demolition and debris removal in Haiti. Bergeron could not be reached for comment.

For his part, Perkins has been making frequent trips between South Florida and Port-au-Prince and meeting with Haitian government ministers. His local partner, Bigio, is chairman of GB Group in Haiti, a large industrial and commercial company. Perkins, who said he had dinner with the Haitian ambassador in Washington two days after the earthquake, envisions using the cleanup of Haiti to lay a foundation for a new economy in the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere.

He said he wants to set up training programs to develop job skills for Haitians and also is talking about hiring Haitian Americans in South Florida to go to Haiti to help in the cleanup and to bridge language and culture gaps. “The work over there is a massive undertaking that is going to require multiple companies with various disciplines,” Perkins said. “It’s all about creating jobs,” he added. “When faced with major devastation and loss of life and property, you have a new opportunity to do things in a new and different way.”