The United States has dropped the ball again as thousands of Puerto Ricans were left homeless after a novice contractor failed to deliver an order of emergency tarps and plastic sheeting repairs, the Associated Press reported.
A small, new Florida company won the bidding war for the US$30 million contract from FEMA to transport the sorely needed supplies to the hurricane-torn island nation.
Bronze Star LLC said they were unable to complete the order due to shortages in Texas following Harvey. While government officials said they do not consider a company’s experience when hiring contractors.
"The Bronze Star LLC contract was awarded in accordance with existing federal acquisition regulations," said FEMA's acting press secretary, Jenny Burke.
"Regulation requires the government to neither prefer, nor hold against a company its 'newness' to federal contracts, and requires that the lowest price, technically acceptable bid be selected," she added.
FEMA awarded the company two contracts to provide 500,000 tarps and 60,000 rolls of plastic sheeting to Puerto Rico on Oct. 10. Ron Roth, FEMA spokesperson said that although the process was “somewhat expedited,” the department did perform its duty.
"FEMA's initial technical evaluation determined Bronze Star could do the jobs based on their proposals, which confirmed that they could meet the product specifications and delivery dates," Roth said.
"In every circumstance, regardless of the award, whether it's US$400 to the local stationery company for envelopes, or it's US$400 million for a construction contract, the contracting officer is required to make a responsibility determination," said attorney and a former federal adviser for government contracts, Alan Miller.
"Does this company have the infrastructure; do they have the inventory processes, the production processes, the financial capability, for performing the work?" he asked.
Company owners said after Texan suppliers were unable to provide the raw materials, a waiver requesting purchases from Chinese manufacturers and later for a time extension were both denied by FEMA, according to the Associated Press.
The contract was finally terminated by FEMA on Nov. 4 to restart the process.
Meanwhile, islanders continue to wait for basic necessities months after Hurricane Maria. Roth told AP that over 93,000 tarps have since been sent to Puerto Rican distribution centers, while another 11,000 were sent and installed by the Army Corps of Engineers “Blue Roof” program.
The country is still short approximately 60,000 blue roofs, FEMA’s Puerto Rican coordination officer Michael Byrne said, adding that an average 350 roofs are being installed daily, though, this number is expected to increase.