A second inexperienced company gets a shady contract in Puerto Rico.
With tens of thousands of homes in Puerto Rico damaged from Hurricane Maria, Donald Trump’s Federal Emergency Management Agency moved to secure nearly $100 million in tents and tarps to help keep people sheltered and dry.
But as yet another example of the U.S.’s lackluster relief efforts in the wake of the disaster, the plan quickly cratered when FEMA awarded a $30 million tarp contract to a months-old Florida company, Bronze Star, that has no prior experience with government contracts.
According to an Associated Press investigation, none of the material — 500,000 tarps and 60,000 rolls of plastic sheeting — was ever delivered, and nearly one month later, FEMA canceled the contract and had to start the process all over again.
The delays have been devastating for the U.S. commonwealth. "Thousands of Puerto Ricans remain homeless, and many complain that the federal government is taking too long to install tarps," the AP reports. "The U.S. territory has been hit by severe rainstorms in recent weeks that have caused widespread flooding."
The AP investigation reveals a FEMA organization that bordered on recklessness with its inept handling of crucial contracts to help rebuild Puerto Rico.
"Formed by two brothers in August, Bronze Star had never before won a government contract or delivered tarps or plastic sheeting. The address listed for the business is a single-family home in a residential subdivision in St. Cloud, Florida," according to the AP.
It’s astonishing that an agency designed specifically to deal with emergencies awarded a $30 million post-emergency contract with a two-month-old entity that had never before done any work with the government — nor had it ever produced the materials for which it was ostensibly contracted.
The debacle is reminiscent of the no-bid, $300 million contract to rebuild Puerto Rico’s power grid that was awarded to a tiny Montana start-up company called Whitefish Energy, which also had no previous experience with federal contracts.
But Whitefish Energy just happened to be located in the hometown of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, and was financed by a major Trump donor.
While that contract was administered not through FEMA but rather the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, the boondoggle did come to symbolize the faltering and at-times criminally slow relief effort overseen by Trump, who has made it plain that helping to rebuild Puerto Rico is not a priority for him.
"What he has done so far and what FEMA has done so far has not been up to standards," San Juan’s mayor, Carmen Yulin Cruz, told CNN on Tuesday. "The president has had a — frankly, a conduct unbecoming of a leader of the free world."
And the embarrassing mess caused by the Bronze Star contract put that conduct into stark and painful relief.