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DHS forming arbitration panels

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is establishing arbitration panels to resolve outstanding disputes over public assistance claims stemming from the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announced the formation of the arbitration process following a congressional directive included in recently-enacted legislation. The panels are intended to expedite the resolution of disputed public assistance claims with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

“There are school, hospital and infrastructure projects in Mississippi that aren’t being completed because of disputes over FEMA eligibility judgments. This new arbitration process provides an alternative for Bay St. Louis-Waveland School District, for instance, to take its case to an independent body for resolution,” Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) said.

Congress established the arbitration panels to give communities and other entities access to a process, independent of DHS, to settle their disputed applications for FEMA recovery payments on projects over $500,000. The arbitration process may be used instead of the current FEMA appeals process. An arbitration panel’s decision would be final and binding.

Rules regulating the arbitration process are expected to be printed in the “Federal Register” by Aug. 31. The three-person arbitration panels will be made up of neutral, third-party judges, with the Federal Civilian Board of Contract Appeals providing the primary pool of judges.

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