More than 80 percent of the $1.5 billion in contracts signed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency alone were awarded without bidding or with limited competition, government records show, provoking concerns among auditors and government officials about the potential for favoritism or abuse.
Already, questions have been raised about the political connections of two major contractors - the Shaw Group and Kellogg, Brown & Root, a subsidiary of Halliburton - that have been represented by the lobbyist Joe M. Allbaugh, President Bush's former campaign manager and a former leader of FEMA.
"When you do something like this, you do increase the vulnerability for fraud, plain waste, abuse and mismanagement," said Richard L. Skinner, the inspector general for the Department of Homeland Security, who said 60 members of his staff were examining Hurricane Katrina contracts. "We are very apprehensive about what we are seeing."
Bills have come in for deals that apparently were clinched with a handshake, with no documentation to back them up, said Mr. Skinner, who declined to provide details.
"Most, if not all, of these people down there were trying to do the right thing," he said. "They were under a lot of pressure and they took a lot of shortcuts that may have resulted in a lot of waste."
Congress appropriated $62.3 billion in emergency financing after Hurricane Katrina struck. So far, a total of $15.8 billion has been allocated from a FEMA-managed disaster relief fund, of which $11.6 billion has been committed through contracts, direct aid to individuals or work performed by government agencies.
An examination of the contracts granted to date and interviews with state and federal officials raised concerns about some of the awards.
Some industry and government officials questioned the costs of the debris-removal contracts, saying the Army Corps of Engineers had allowed a rate that was too high. And Congressional investigators are looking into the $568 million awarded to AshBritt, a Pompano Beach, Fla., company that was a client of the former lobbying firm of Gov. Haley Barbour of Mississippi.