Now in trailers:
Four hundred squat white trailers sat on train cars in the Norfolk Southern rail yard Tuesday, waiting for the long trip to the Gulf of Mexico. In Nappanee, 15 miles away, 200 or more are produced each day.
This is what $521 million in Federal Emergency Management Agency contracts looks like: Gulf Stream Coach Inc.'s bare bones Cavalier trailers. They have a steel chassis, a wood frame and white aluminum siding. There's a couch, a kitchen table, a three-burner stove, a double sink and a refrigerator. Each has an adult-size bed and a set of bunk beds, and they can be hooked up to air conditioning and sewer and water lines. A toilet, a shower, and a place to wash your face complete the unit.
Demand couldn't be greater.
"As fast as we can put them on there, they're moving them down there," said Gulf Stream marketing director Steven Lidy, watching the company's trailers being hitched for the ride to the rail yard Tuesday.
The giant award to Gulf Stream for 50,000 housing units is part of unprecedented federal spending to answer one of the basic needs caused by the hurricane disasters of Katrina and Rita: providing an estimated 600,000 displaced people with housing.
The trailers are emblematic of the scale and scope of the federal effort in the region. The spending is a window into the urgent, sometimes haphazard contracting process, much of it done with little or no competitive bidding, like Gulf Stream's contract.
Little or no competitive bidding. This is because of the urgency, you see. It's also a lot easier to just look up who has already gotten federal money and to hand out more to the same companies.
But it would be very interesting to see what the actual contracts look like. For example, it isn't too hard to find out how much a trailer like the ones supplied by Gulf Stream would retail. Then one could compare that price to the prices in this contract, to get a starting point.