FEMA Picked The Wrong Company To Deliver 30 Million Meals To Puerto Rico

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Thomas Phippen Acting Editor-In-Chief
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A contractor failed to deliver millions of meals to Puerto Rico under a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) contract, but House Democrats say the company never should have gotten the project anyway.

FEMA awarded the contract to deliver 30 million meals to Puerto Rico to help with recovery from Hurricane Maria Oct. 3 to Tribute Contracting, LLC, an Atlanta, Ga., company with one employee. Tribute was supposed to deliver 18.5 million meals a few weeks later, but Tribute had only delivered 50,000, The New York Times reports.

“Do not ship another meal. Your contract is terminated,” Carolyn Ward, a FEMA contracting officer handling the agreement with Tribute, wrote Oct. 19 to the company’s proprietor and sole employee, Tiffany Brown. “This is a logistical nightmare.”

The contract was officially terminated Oct. 23.

Brown’s company brought on several subcontractors to help with the contract, including a caterer that specialized in weddings, to prepare and package the meals. FEMA says the contract was canceled “due to late delivery” of the meals, and that the meals delivered didn’t comply with the contract requirement for “self-heating meals.”

“Clearly, Tribute did not have sufficient financial resources of its own to support this contract,” Maryland Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings and Stacey Plaskett, the non-voting delegate from the Virgin Islands, wrote in a letter to FEMA. “Based on Tribute’s lack of experience in large-scale disaster relief and its limited financial capacity, FEMA should have raised serious questions about whether the company could meet the contract terms — especially since the contract concerned such a critical need.”

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Other agencies have canceled at least five contracts with Tribute, including one for baked goods and meats for the Bureau of Prisons, which was canceled due to “the vendor’s inability to ship/deliver products.”

Brown told TheNYT that she sees herself “almost like a broker,” who is adept at the federal contracting process and organizes subcontractors to provide services to the government for a portion of the federal money. Broker-style contracts are sometimes awarded when the government wants to speed up the procurement process. The Department of Defense, for example, awarded a $7 million contract to a company with one employee to assist with cloud services, NextGov reports.

FEMA maintains that the canceled contract did not hamper the government’s relief efforts. “At the time of the contract termination there were ample commodity supplies in the pipeline, and distribution was not affected,” William Booher, a FEMA spokesman, told TheNYT. “During the 2017 hurricane season FEMA sourced over 200 million meals through multiple vendors in order to support disaster response activities across multiple disasters.”

Cummings sees the award of the contract as a sign of the administration’s failure. “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,” Cummings wrote.

“They probably should have gone with someone else, but I’m assuming they did not because this was the third hurricane” in a record year for hurricanes, Brown told TheNYT. “They were trying to fill the orders the best they could.”

FEMA de-obligated the contract award, but Brown says she will sue the government for being imprecise in the contract solicitation. The subcontractor is suing her company, which says it has 75,000 undelivered meals frozen in a warehouse.

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