Report: Gov’t. Should Have Done More To Vet Contractors Providing Tarps To Hurricane Victims

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In the rush to assist 2017’s hurricane victims, the government’s emergency response agency had to cancel $73 million worth of tarp and plastic sheeting contracts because the companies failed to deliver, according to a report from Senate Democrats.

The report blames the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for awarding three contracts without going through the proper vetting process to ensure businesses would be able to deliver, though it’s unclear what the agency could have done differently.

“Once again, we’ve seen massive contracts awarded to individuals and companies [who] would seem to have no capacity to deliver,” Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill, the highest ranking Democrat on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said in a statement.

“Trying to do significant contracting work during an unprecedented hurricane season is certainly difficult, but what we saw with these contracts was a failure to safeguard tax dollars and a failure to deliver desperately needed goods and services to Americans, many of whom are still dealing with the devastating effects of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria,” McCaskill said.

McCaskill has been seeking answers to three hurricane-recovery contracts since November 2017 and considers FEMA responsible for awarding contracts to companies with no history of federal work — without completely vetting their ability to provide supplies to disaster areas.

One company that failed to deliver tarps after FEMA signed a contract said they were not trying to make a quick buck but trying to help. Bronze Star LLC received two contracts totaling more than $39 million to provide tarps and plastic sheeting to Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria.

The two brothers who ran the company, which registered to be a government contractor just a few months before submitting the lowest bid and winning the contract, said they had subcontractors operating out of Houston who were unable to complete the delivery because of Hurricane Harvey. Bronze Star asked FEMA if it could get the tarps and sheeting from China, but FEMA denied the request.

“We were trying to help; it wasn’t about making money or anything like that,” Kayon Jones, one of the owners of Bronze Star, told The Associated Press. FEMA canceled the contract and went with a different vendor.

The other contract McCaskill criticized went to Global Computers and Networks, LLC — a company that registered just a month before bidding on the $33.9 million to provide 500,000 tarps to Puerto Rico. When the company failed to deliver any tarps, FEMA canceled the contract.

FEMA was in such a rush to fill the orders for tarps and sheeting that for some other contracts, the bids were due hours after the government requested them.

FEMA is not allowed to reject contractors “solely on the basis of a lack of relevant performance history,” but the rules governing contracting “makes it clear that this fact does not absolve the agency of its duty to evaluate a prospective contractor’s qualification,” McCaskill’s report noted.

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