President Obama tours the beach at Port Fourchon
with Parish President Charlotte Randolph in May this year
The U.S. government paid an expert $18,000 to assess whether news stories about the Gulf oil spill were positive or negative for the Obama administration, it was revealed today.
And it awarded a $216,625 no-bid contract for a survey of seabirds to an environmental group that has criticised what it calls the ‘extreme anti-conservation record’ of Sarah Palin.
The contracts were among hundreds revealed by The Associated Press as the government provided the first glimpse of federal spending since the disaster in April.
The administration released details of about $134 million in contracts, a fraction of the hundreds of millions of dollars it has spent so far.
The White House is still deciding whether it will bill the British oil giant for spill-related trips by Obama and his wife, Michelle, to the Gulf, including the president’s flights aboard Air Force One, which can cost tens of thousands of dollars each.
The contracts the government has disclosed so far include at least $5.8 million for helicopter services, $3.2 million for hotel rooms, $1.4 million for boat charters, $33,000 for oil-measuring devices aboard ships, $441,621 for cellular and satellite phone services, $25,087 for toilets, $23,217 for laundry services and $109,735 for refrigerators and freezers.
Yet the government’s new contracting data includes errors and vague entries that make it difficult to identify wasteful spending. It spent $52,000 on a boat charter described merely as “marine charter for things,” with no further explanation.
A White House spokesman, Ben LaBolt, declined to comment on the contracts.
But critics are likely to focus on the decision to pay $9,000 per month for two months to John Brooks Rice, an on-call worker for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, under a no-bid contract to monitor media coverage from late May through July.
Rice told AP that he compiled print and video news stories and offered his subjective appraisal of the tone of the coverage.
‘From reading and watching the media I would create reports,’ he said. ‘I reported either positive coverage, negative coverage, misinformation coverage.’
The Coast Guard provided the AP with a copy of two of Rice’s printouts of news stories but didn’t respond to a request for copies of his reports rating the tone of news stories. Rice said he had already deleted them.
AP requested copies of all Rice’s reports under the Freedom of Information Act but hasn’t received them.
The Coast Guard expects BP to reimburse the $18,000, Coast Guard spokesman Capt. Ron LaBrec said.
The Coast Guard said it didn’t ask for competitive bids because it urgently needed the work done. In the newly released federal data, the government didn’t disclose Rice’s name, instead misidentifying him as “miscellaneous foreign contractors.”
A BP spokesman could not say whether BP has already reimbursed the government for the media monitoring, videotaping and seabird survey, because bills the government submits do not include enough details for the company to tell which contracts are included.
BP paid the government’s first five bills but sought more information about some items before eventually paying for them, he said.
Those have included a $12.6 million bill from the Navy for ‘skimming and tow vessels,’ a $30,000 Air Force expense for a ‘severe weather safe haven’ and $339,915 for aircraft flight hours, he said.
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