Whore of Engineers

May 6, 2009 by

Levees.org has uncovered an interesting item in the Army Corps of Engineers ledger: $1,000,000 for public relations.

It seems that instead of fixing the levees in New Orleans, the ACE thinks it’s easier to fix their image. And apparently it is. The PR firm hired by the Corps, Outreach Process Partners, touted their fantastic work on their website with a nifty graphic taking credit for reducing negative articles about the Corps. The graphic showed that between Oct ’06 and Jun ’07 the Corps racked up over 13,000 negative articles in the media. That same stretch from ’07 to ’08 lists only 305 negative articles with OPP’s help.

Really? From 13,000 to just 300 in one year? Those guys are good. Or they’re lying. Clearly they do not count the blogosphere as media.

Less than 24 hours after the Levees.org released this news, OPP pulled the page from their website, but Levees.org cached it and it can be viewed here. You can view the “edited” page here for a comparison.

Now ask yourself, how much flood protection would one million dollars buy? How many homes could be raised? How much higher could the levees be raised with a million dollars of dirt? How much more of Plaquemines Parish could be brought into the flood protection area? How much drainage work or infrastructure repair could be done? Congress has repeatedly refused to allocate funding for an independent investigation into the levee failures, relying on in-house investigations which have been tame at best, but they clearly have no problem rubber-stamping an assload of cash to hide bad press.

And here’s the fun part… the PR firm is based in Annapolis, MD. But then I doubt the PR firms in New Orleans would dare to take any amount of money to defend these charlatans. OPP (I find that hilariously ironic, don’t you?) is owned and run by Janice Roper-Graham who started the company after serving as vice-president of the Government Services Integrated Process Team. While at GSIPT, Roper-Graham worked hand-in-hand with Ogilvy PR to improve public perception of FEMA during and immediately after Hurricane Katrina. (One wonders if she fed Bush the “Heckuva job, Brownie” line.) She also runs TransCom Partners, a firm which specializes in media relations for government agencies involved in transportation, engineering and construction.

From OPP’s website:
OPP provides media support for print, broadcast and Internet media on local, national and international levels including outlets such as the Times-Picayune, WWL-TV CBS New Orleans, Associated Press, USA Today, The Weather Channel, The Today Show, French TV Channel 5, and Engineering News Record on issues such as Hurricane Gustav, “paper in the floodwalls” and other investigative responses, seepage, peer review and the state of the hurricane and storm damage risk reduction system.  As part of this cause, OPP fosters strategic relationships with media outlets that result in more accurate and balanced stories.

Remember that the next time you see a story on the Corps. OPP’s contract runs through September of 2010. It seems to me that if the Corps would do their job properly, they wouldn’t need to waste our tax money on a PR firm. But then what the hell do I know.

-M Styborski

7 Comments

  1. Jeebussss Aitch!!! Brilliant commentary as usual!

  2. Story has hit Huffington: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/georgianne-nienaber/army-corps-of-engineers-i_b_199344.html

    If you want to compare the two pages mentioned above, you’ll need to go to Huffington. OPP has removed all but two pages regarding the ACE. Of six links on the OPP site, four are dead and return a 404 error. One live link details a program sold to the New Orleans ACE called HAZUS and billed as “a crystal ball for disaster mitigation.” Yeah, someone’s getting hazed alright.

    The other live link details improvements to the ACE website. From this page we have the following quote: “…USACE Team New Orleans leadership knew that their website needed to be overhauled.” If only the word ‘levees’ had been used instead of ‘website.’

    Curiously, I missed one job Janice held in-between GSIPT and OPP; that of VP Marketing for eTelemetry, a company that can “Find the person behind an IP in real time and historically. Track VoIP phones automatically. Monitor bandwidth usage, sites surfed, and chat times by person and department. Know how your network is being used.” Sounds like they’d be perfect for teaching people how to fake blog posts, eh?

  3. OK, I’ve been looking into this HAZUS thing…

    HAZUS-MH stands for Hazards U.S. Multi-Hazard and it’s “a powerful risk assessment software program for analyzing potential losses from floods, hurricane winds and earthquakes. In HAZUS-MH, current scientific and engineering knowledge is coupled with the latest geographic information systems (GIS) technology to produce estimates of hazard-related damage before, or after a disaster occurs.” That comes from the HAZUS main page which is actually a sub-page of…

    FEMA!

    Yes, the program which the New Orleans District ACE will be using to mitigate future disasters comes from FEMA and it was developed in partnership with the National Institute of Building Sciences. I looked at three different overviews of HAZUS-MH and there is a strange difference between the NIBS overview and the FEMA/OPP overviews. The NIBS overview emphasizes earthquakes in the text, the others emphasize hurricanes and floods as seen in the quote above. I can only imagine this to be OPP spin in order to make the flood/wind model stand out to those of us here in the Gulf South.

    HAZUS is basically a fancy simulation program that uses real geographic data and quake/flood/wind models to estimate direct and induced damages and losses to the infrastructure of a given area. This is a good thing if it is accurate and NIBS is clearly trying to make it as accurate as possible. The original HAZUS program was released in 2003 and the latest version was released in 2007. There have been two patches released (Nov ’07 and Aug ’08) which improve the hydraulics flood model and fixed 78 software and flood model bugs.

    Wow. That’s a lot of hard work, so… I guess HAZUS is well worth the price. It’s available for download at FEMA for FREE! Yes, the ACE is paying millions of tax dollars to OPP for them to hook us up with a software program that any federal or state agency can obtain for free. Money well spent, yes?

    And guess what? One of OPP’s clients is apparently FEMA. OPP is working to create buzz and awareness for HAZUS-MH within the industry. One of the talking points on OPP’s HAZUS page states “Raised awareness of HAZUS in the trade press – American City and County, County News online edition, GISWeekly magazine, and Podcast discussion on Very Spatial Podcast. OPP lined up six media interviews with GIS trade publication editors at the booth during the International ESRI (GIS) User Conference with HAZUS’ program manager”

    I believe this is called “synergy” these days. My dad called it conflict of interest.

  4. Local watchdog Matt McBride reports the full details of the ACE/OPP contract is worse than we thought. The three year contract tops out at 5.25 million dollars! This is 1.75 million dollars per year. Through January the Corps has already paid OPP 3.1 million dollars.

    This is FFP (Firm Fixed Price) contract W912P8-07-D-0076. The ACE contracting officer is Louisa G Taylor and Brenda Welty is the ACE contracting specialist attached to this project. Welty’s number is 504-862-2872. A PDF with this info can be downloaded from:
    http://www.mvn.usace.army.mil/ebs/AwardResults.asp

    OPP’s New Orleans office is located at 318 Octavia Street, phone is 888-677-0101.

  5. WWL-4 has looked into this and will run a story tonight at 10pm so switch over as soon as lost is done!

  6. Well, sorry kids, it was all just a big misunderstanding. According to Stacy Mendoza, OPP’s vice-president of its Southern Division, (she’s doing a good job dividing us, isn’t she,) “I understand the confusion we’ve created over our role, which is a support role to the Army Corps and I’m sorry that there is that confusion.” In her fifteen minutes of shame on WWL she explained that the graph boasting of OPP’s success in quashing ACE negative press was just a “case study,” that was “misguided,” “too boastful” and “a mistake.”

    I wish I got five-million dollars every time I made a mistake.

    Ken Holder, the ACE Public Affairs Director claims that “The services that we actually get from (OPP) are educational and informative.” Of course, Ken has only been on the job about a month now so he may not be clued into what’s actually going on yet. You know how the Corps likes to study things awhile before acting.

    If you check out Stacy’s bio on the OPP site, you can see some of the successful marketing campaigns she has run in the past before joining OPP, one of which was creating a “doubloon-like coupon” for Popeyes restaurants during the 2005 Mardi Gras season. I gotta tell you, that was a great idea. Especially when Al Copeland did it back in the seventies! Sorry Stacy, stealing someone else’s idea is not really something to boast about. How in the heck did you manage to land the OPP gig anyway?

    Could it be because your husband, Robert, is currently the Director of Public Works for the City of New Orleans? His bio is interesting as well, crediting him with all kinds of good deeds like “managing the construction of several City and State projects, which included replacing all utilities, roadway base and pavements of all kinds,” and reducing costs in the city’s overhead street lighting system. I guess if half the lights are broken you’re going to save an assload of money. As for the repaving, I’d love to see any example of this boastful claim. St Charles is still a mess buddy.

    The only real question now is, how much federal money will OPP apply for in order to hire some other PR firm to boost its own image after this incredible debacle?

  7. @M “His bio is interesting as well, crediting him with all kinds of good deeds like “managing the construction of several City and State projects, which included replacing all utilities, roadway base and pavements of all kinds,” and reducing costs in the city’s overhead street lighting system.”

    Did it actually say “in New Orleans”?

    I’m not sure which is more distressing – the fact that they spend that kind of money on “spin” instead of work…or the fact that they blatantly post it thinking we’re all too stupid to read it and realize what a scam they are!

    The Feds seem to have lots of (our) money to throw around to protect the image of whomever is kissing their ass the hardest…if they’d actually toss it towards fixing up places that need it, implementing community improvements, repairing broken education systems…maybe, just maybe the people who make up this country might blow them a kiss – instead of showing them the finger.

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