FEMA Hired An Inexperienced Contractor To Send 30 Million Meals To Puerto Rico, And Only 50,000 Arrived

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In the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, with Puerto Rico’s electrical grid in tatters, FEMA awarded a $300 million contract to Whitefish, a small Montana energy company with some connections to the Trump administration and no experience with such a large-scale project. After criticism from the mayor of San Juan, Whitefish threatened to walk away from the deal, which it did after Puerto Rico cancelled the contract, sparking an FBI investigation of how the deal came to be. Now, another inexperienced contractor is getting attention for a cushy $156 million contract that it couldn’t fulfill.

In October, FEMA awarded the massive contract to Tribute Contracting LLC, an Atlanta-based company owned and operated by Tiffany Brown, the company’s lone employee. The contract called for Tribute to supply 30 million self-heating meals to Puerto Rico, but Brown only delivered 50,000. From the New York Times:

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.”

At that point, FEMA contracting officer Carolyn Ward terminated the contract and prohibited Brown from shipping any more meals due to the ensuing “logistical nightmare.” Yet the most troubling aspect of this mess was this was at least the sixth time that a contract awarded to Brown and Tribute was canceled because she failed to deliver. At least one federal government office had put a ban on Tribute getting contracts above $35,000 until January 2019 because of a previously cancelled contract.

Brown is currently seeking a $70 million settlement with FEMA, and her subcontractors are threatening to sue her after not being paid for their rendered services. Logistical nightmare, indeed.

(Via New York Times)