By John Bendel
Special to Land Line
Matt Bruce is upbeat about working for FEMA.
Bruce is an agent for Green Tree Transportation and American Road Lines. He is also an elected committeeman in Sarasota County, FL, where he is affiliated with the county Emergency Operations Center. That helps.
"I know who to talk to," Bruce said.
Bruce, an OOIDA Life Member, said he often handles loads for the government.
"It could be FEMA, it could be the U.S. military. It could be, in my case, the Florida Army National Guard, which was activated and sent to Louisiana and Mississippi. They call me directly," Bruce said.
How does a carrier get in line for that business?
"Number one: You have to be an approved government contractor. You have to be on the list already. You apply with the government to go with the Military Transportation Command," Bruce said.
"That's what a person has to do. Then they get themselves setup with the government.
"They have to post a bond and have cargo insurance, which is $2 million.
"Then they have to be able to haul what it is that they're bidding on. In other words, if you're a broker, you have to have the trucks to haul it."
Winding through the labyrinth
Not for Keith McDonald, an OOIDA member and owner-operator from Wyoming, who actually found his way through the FEMA sign-up process. McDonald hauls oversized equipment on an RGN - removable goose-neck trailer. He began the sign-up process on the Web three years ago, but still hasn't seen his first FEMA load.
McDonald said he began with an online tutorial at the FedBizOpps Web site, fedbizopps.gov. His first task was to get a Central Contractor Registration number, or CCR number.
"In order to get that you have to have to be Dun & Bradstreet rated, and you have to pay to be rated," McDonald explained.
At the same time, McDonald registered to haul for the Department of Defense.
"In order to do that you have to be bonded," said McDonald.
"Here's the beautiful thing of that. You're not going to find a bonding company that wants to bond you unless you have a contract and you're not going to get a contract unless you're bonded. I fought that for 18 months.
"There's a process, I guess, for getting registered. You think you have everything done. You think you're setup when you go through all this stuff, and then nothing happens. Nothing happens. You call to find out what's going on and they're like, 'you still have to do this step and this step and this step.'
" 'But those steps aren't on the Web site,' you say. 'Well, that's what you gotta do.' So it's bait and switch constantly. You're trying to figure out where you're supposed to be. Talk to 12 people in the same agency and you get 12 different answers."
How not to sign up with FEMA
On FEMA's main page, look on the left side for the tab marked "customer service." Under that heading you'll find "Doing Business With FEMA."
That takes you to a page labeled "Financial & Acquisitions Management: Doing Business With FEMA."
There are two places on the page where you can click on "Doing Business With FEMA" - again. Click on either one.
Now you're on yet another "Doing Business With FEMA" page.
Here's where the searching starts getting really murky.
Your first option is a link called "Procurement Information." Click on that and you get the "Bidder's Information" page.
There you will find two links. One is labeled "FedBizOps," a place to find federal government procurement opportunities of more than $25,000. At the bottom of the page, click on "FedBizOps, VENDORS."
There you will find the "Browse Agencies by Acronym in Alphabetic Order" page. Click on the down arrow next to the "select one" panel and you'll see an alphabet soup of federal agencies.
Scroll down to FEMA if you like, but you'll only be told that FEMA has moved to something called DHS-EPR.
Save yourself some time: select DHS-EPR.
Ah! Now you've found something.
Or have you?
To find out exactly what you've found, you have to know how to search under headings whose meanings are not explained - Locations, Posted Dates, Class Code, NAIC, Award and Set Aside, etc.
Surely there's an explanation of those labels somewhere on the site, but it is not immediately apparent where, and there are only so many hours in a day.
So you click your way back to the "Bidder's Information" page and try the "Commerce Business Daily" link.
There you will find a page that seems to be saying that Commerce Business Daily, or CBD, is going out of business, or has gone out of business and you should now check out FedBizOps.
Hmm. Already been there.
OK, you back up to that last "Doing Business With FEMA" page. There under the "Procurement Information" button that proved less than helpful information is a notice that says DHS - Department of Homeland Security, FEMA's bureaucratic mothership - has implemented the use of the Central Contractor Registration (CCR) departmentwide.
To do any business at all with FEMA, you have to have a CCR number. You are directed to another Web site, www.ccr.gov, where a banner running across the page advises you that if you manage to get registered you will join 392,504 others already in the system.
Gee, if they could do it, you certainly should be able to, right?
In fact, you have found something critical. Indeed, you must be registered to do business with FEMA and other federal agencies.
So you click on "Start New Registration" where you find - what else - another hurdle to jump. You are advised that a DUNS number, provided by Dun & Bradstreet (D&B), is required before you can get a Central Contractor Registration number. "Click here to begin requesting a DUNS number from Dun & Bradstreet," you're told.
Of course, larger carriers know all about D&B and probably subscribe to some of their services.
But owner-operators will have to go through the process and - of course - pay for the DUNS number.
So it goes through FEMA's digital labyrinth on the Web - on and on and on.
Calling in the bureaucratic cavalry
So how did Keith McDonald finally get set up?
He called U.S. Rep. Barbara Cubin, R-WY, for help.
"Her office helped me slip through the red tape and get set up," McDonald said. "But even though I'm set up, I haven't heard anything. I haven't seen a bid letting or a bid posting for anything to do with FEMA that I could come remotely close to bidding on. I have never received a call even though I'm on their central contractor list."
When Katrina hit, McDonald expected to hear something. Nothing happened.
"We signed up for FEMA three years ago, and we haven't heard a thing. We haven't gotten a confirmation on anything or heard of a need for trucks here or there. It seems they always give it to the Landstars, the Green Trees," McDonald said.
McDonald had a slightly better experience - but no real luck - with the Department of Defense, which was moving military equipment into the storm ravaged Gulf Coast areas.
"This was stuff you had a four-hour window to bid on it, and you'd better be right there to move it," he said. "There was nothing I could move."
Driving for FEMA:
The up side
Matt Bruce has been hauling all kinds of flat bed loads into the stricken areas - military equipment, generators, potable water, trailers, tires.
"Hauled a M.A.S.H. unit hospital out of North Carolina. I've been hauling axles because they've been breaking a lot," Bruce said.
"They can't see where they're driving in the deep water. You drive into a pot hole or a culvert or a ditch and you bust an axle. The water is up to the hood of the trucks in some cases," Bruce explained.
Bruce said he spent two weekends in Gulfport, Pascagoula, and Biloxi, MS, coordinating 15 trucks. The area was devastated, he said.
On the weekend of Sept. 10 and 11, Bruce joined a caravan of trucks carrying reels of cable, transformers, phone poles and electrical equipment to Mandeville, LA, which is on the north side of Lake Pontchartrain across from New Orleans.
"When (Katrina) came through, it pretty much followed I-59. Now I-59 was totally impassable and blocked. I-10, the bridge was taken out in several places as well as going into New Orleans. You couldn't get there," Bruce said.
"So what would have been 200 or 250 or 300 miles has, in some cases, took trucks as much as 500 to 800 miles. When we went in Labor Day weekend to go to Mississippi, we went down some roads, I'm talking about country, farm, dirt roads that the locals knew."
Bruce and his owner-operators went prepared.
"We had stuff with us. We went as though we were going to camp out for a week. We didn't know what was going to happen," he said.
"There were plenty of people who had horrendous experiences, but I didn't hear complaints from anybody. All I heard was, 'thank you' and 'thank God you're here.' People the military brought in, people actually running the different areas were top notch. They knew exactly what they had to do, what they were doing, how to do it," Bruce said.
"And we've got to give credit to the truckers, because a lot of those guys, you know, they go above and beyond."
The down side
Sam Deal is a company driver for
C-Line Transportation out of Statesville, NC, who found himself under a double-brokered load of packaged meals and a bad set of directions to the wrong place.
"I get up there and they turn me around to Hammond (Louisiana). They call it an R&D distribution center for FEMA run by the National Guard," Deal said. "The Corps of Engineers had made a parking lot and they had trucks parked all over the place. Well, I tried to turn into the parking lot, missed it and dropped the trailer in a ditch. It didn't fall over, but it wasn't far from it. They had to call a tow truck to get me out.
"One of the captains told me FEMA would pay for the tow truck," Deal said, but another officer told the tow truck driver Deal would pay for it.
"That was $300 out of my pocket," Deal said.
"I finally get out of the ditch. Next morning I find out I'm at the wrong spot. So I pull out of there, go around to the other side of the woods 'cause that's where I'm supposed to be. This is one of those wonderful Corps of Engineers lots where they just put loose gravel down on the dirt. I sit there for half a day."
Then, according to Deal, authorities started getting worried about rain. Trucks and trailers were sinking and getting stuck. At that point, they ordered 150 trucks to three truck stops in Amite, LA.
Deal was sent to the Forest Gold Truck Plaza, where someone had committed vandalism so disgusting that truck stop management refused to let any of the transferred FEMA drivers into the facilities.
"After they blackballed us from the truck stop, we were kind of upset.
"We've got no porta-johns, no nothing. We asked the Louisiana National Guard people, 'What are ya'll gonna do for us for facilities?' Well, they said unhook your trailer and bobtail wherever you need to go.
"Next morning, they finally start moving trucks out because Rita had come through and actually moved me about three miles down the road to a POD - point of delivery - where we had porta-johns and some food facilities that opened late and closed early.
"I bobtailed a couple of times 45 miles round trip down to Hammond to get a good meal. If we can help it, we won't take another FEMA load."
Deal had picked up Wednesday and was finally unloaded the following Tuesday.