Two Democratic U.S. senators are calling for a government probe into the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s distribution of state contracts to inexperienced companies in the wake of Hurricane Maria.
Nearly a dozen companies with “little to no experience” were charged with repairing the extensive damage left after Hurricane Maria crashed into Puerto Rico on September 20, 2017, Senators Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass said in a letter Wednesday.
Over US$40 million work deals were awarded to novice FEMA contractors and, although the majority have honored their contracts, there were others, such as the Bronze Star LLC, which failed to deliver an order of emergency tarps and plastic sheeting repairs to homeless Puerto Ricans.
Another US$300 million contract entrusted restoring the island’s power grid to a financial-backer of U.S. President Donald Trump, Whitefish Energy Holdings. Despite the custom of contracting larger companies during times of large-scale natural disasters, FEMA opted for a small private-equity firm which donated over US$50,000 during Trump’s presidential campaign and has only two full-time employees.
The agency awarded a major US$156 million meal contract to a one-person company, Tribute Contracting, located in Atlanta, before reneging on the deal just 20 days later.
Meanwhile, a truck parts supplier, La Casa del Camionero, garnered over US$40 million in contracts to store and deliver diesel fuel just months after winning its first federal contract for less than US$50,000.
“The issue here is that FEMA continues to award contracts to companies who have little to no experience, and in doing so at the very least raises questions about its process for vetting its suppliers,” said Blumenthal and Warren in their letter to the Acting Homeland Security Inspector, General John Kelly.
According to Peter Tyler, a professional working with the private watchdog on federal spending, Project Government Oversight, “This is a sign that they did not do their due diligence.”
Khi Thai, the founder of Public Procurement Center at Florida Atlantic University and an expert on public contracts, said, “(State contractors) should show some expertise in the field. That’s kind of questionable.”