FEMA Contract Called for 30 Million Meals for Puerto Ricans. 50,000 Were Delivered.
The mission for the Federal Emergency Management Agency was clear: Hurricane Maria had torn through Puerto Rico, and hungry people needed food. Thirty million meals needed to be delivered as soon as possible.
For this huge task, FEMA tapped Tiffany Brown, an Atlanta entrepreneur with no experience in large-scale disaster relief and at least five canceled government contracts in her past. FEMA awarded her $156 million for the job, and Ms. Brown, who is the sole owner and employee of her company, Tribute Contracting LLC, set out to find some help.
Ms. Brown, who is adept at navigating the federal contracting system, hired a wedding caterer in Atlanta with a staff of 11 to freeze-dry wild mushrooms and rice, chicken and rice, and vegetable soup. She found a nonprofit in Texas that had shipped food aid overseas and domestically, including to a Houston food bank after Hurricane Harvey.
By the time 18.5 million meals were due, Tribute had delivered only 50,000. And FEMA inspectors discovered a problem: The food had been packaged separately from the pouches used to heat them. FEMA’s solicitation required “self-heating meals.”
“Do not ship another meal. Your contract is terminated,” Carolyn Ward, the FEMA contracting officer who handled Tribute’s agreement, wrote to Ms. Brown in an email dated Oct. 19 that Ms. Brown provided to The New York Times. “This is a logistical nightmare.”
Four months after Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, a picture is emerging of the contracts awarded in the earliest days of the crisis. And examples like the Tribute contract are causing lawmakers to raise questions about FEMA’s handling of the disaster and whether the agency was adequately prepared to respond.
On Tuesday, Democrats on the House Oversight Committee, which has been investigating the contract, asked Representative Trey Gowdy, the committee chairman, to subpoena FEMA for all documents relating to the agreement. Lawmakers fear the agency is not lining up potential contractors in advance of natural disasters, leading it to scramble to award multimillion-dollar agreements in the middle of a crisis.
After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, a bipartisan congressional investigation found that a failure to secure advance contracts led to chaos and potential for waste and fraud. Democrats asserted that FEMA was similarly inept preparing for this storm.
“It appears that the Trump Administration’s response to the hurricanes in Puerto Rico in 2017 suffered from the same flaws as the Bush Administration’s response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005,” wrote Representatives Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland and Stacey E. Plaskett, the nonvoting delegate from the United States Virgin Islands.
Amanda Gonzalez, a spokeswoman for Mr. Gowdy, said FEMA has given the Oversight Committee regular briefings since lawmakers asked for them in October, and at no point had Democrats mentioned the Tribute contract. Sending a subpoena to an agency cooperating with Congress “is premature,” Ms. Gonzalez said in a statement.
In November, The Associated Press found that after Hurricane Maria, FEMA awarded more than $30 million in contracts for emergency tarps and plastic sheeting to a company that never delivered the needed supplies.
FEMA insists no Puerto Ricans missed a meal as a result of the failed agreement with Tribute. FEMA relied on other suppliers that provided “ample” food and water for distribution, said William Booher, an agency spokesman.
But there is little doubt that in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Maria, Puerto Ricans struggled with access to food. The storm shut down ports on an island that imports about 85 percent of its food supply. Farms were flattened. Supermarkets lost electricity and could not find diesel to run their generators. The stores that opened using generator power could not offer much from their understocked shelves.
Puerto Ricans depended heavily on emergency aid dispatched by FEMA. The Department of Homeland Security has doled out more than $1 billion in contracts related to Hurricane Maria, which made landfall in Puerto Rico on Sept. 20.
Read more at the NY Times
Credit Erika P. Rodriguez for The New York Times
NOTE AND LINKS FROM OATH KEEPERS:
Oath Keepers volunteers were very effective at delivering food, water, and other supplies to hurricane victims who needed help. They came from as far away as Montana, Arizona, Mississippi, and Florida. The photo of the red truck below was taken in Texas, but the owner drove it from Florida. Our Oath Keepers volunteers also participated in rescues, security, opening blocked roads, downed tree removal, loading and unloading trucks, medical checkups, etc. Oath Keepers did all of this after the disastrous 2017 hurricanes in Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico.
Oath Keepers Disaster Relief mission in Conroe, Texas
Hurricane Irma in Florida, buying food and other supplies for those in need.
Oath Keepers and friends deliver food, water, and wellness checks in Puerto Rico
Critical food and medical supplies for Puerto Ricans tied up by FEMA?