AP News

NJ Assembly seeks Superstorm Sandy aid monitors

SEA BRIGHT, N.J. (AP) — The federal Housing and Urban Development secretary said Thursday the government plans to track how "every dollar" of Superstorm Sandy aid money is spent while New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie fielded more questions about contracts for storm cleanup and rebuilding.

HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan joined Christie in storm-battered Sea Bright to check on cleanup progress and to pledge transparency on how billions in Sandy aid is spent. New Jersey received word of its first allocation this week — $1.8 billion in Community Development Block Grants, which will be used to help homeowners and businesses rebuild and to mount a marketing campaign to bring summer tourists back to the Jersey Shore.

"With the award of this money, we are also setting up a specific project management office that, like the president did in the Recovery Act, will make every dollar transparent to citizens — they can look at where the money is going, how it's being spent," Donovan said.

Christie, meanwhile, was fielding more questions about companies that received contracts to help New Jersey recover. The latest regards Massachusetts-based CDM Smith, which was fired last year for botching its rebuilding contract in Galveston, Texas, after Hurricane Ike.

Christie said the contract was competitively bid, winning out against five other companies. He said every company has some critics.

Earlier this week, Christie defended the hiring of AshBritt Inc. in a $100 million debris removal contract that was not competitively bid. New Jersey piggybacked on an earlier contract that the state of Connecticut negotiated with the company, which is allowed.

Earlier Thursday, the Assembly budget committee passed two proposals to impose additional oversight on Sandy aid. One authorizes the appointment of integrity monitors.

Christie has also said he's working with Comptroller Matt Boxer to devise a monitoring system. He said it's to the administration's advantage to allow everyone to see where the money is going.

Committee Chairman Vincent Prieto said he wants to subpoena the state treasurer to answer questions about how the aid will be spent and how contracts are awarded.

Treasurer Andrew P. Sidamon-Eristoff was invited before the committee for the fourth time but didn't show up.

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