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Provision requiring audit of contract for Puerto Rico relief heads to president’s desk

By on October 3, 2018

SAN JUAN – A legislative provision authored by U.S. Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY) requiring the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to investigate Florida-based contractor Bronze Star LLC has been sent to the president’s desk to be signed into law.

Bronze Star, which was founded in August 2017, received a FEMA contract in October 2017 to supply 500,000 plastic tarps and 60,000 rolls of plastic sheeting to Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.

The materials were intended to temporarily patch holes in roofs and walls caused by hurricane damage, to keep homes dry until permanent repairs were made.

The lawmaker introduced the provision to conduct an audit of the contracting process “after news reports revealed that a two-month-old company with no prior business experience was awarded a $30 million dollar contract to provide tarps and plastic sheeting to victims of Hurricane Maria,” and said Bronze Star “failed to deliver on the contract, leaving tens of thousands of Americans in Puerto Rico without aid supplies necessary to keep homes dry as repairs were made,” according to a release issued by Maloney’s office.

“Bronze Star was only two months old at the time the contract was awarded, had no history of fulfilling government contracts, and was headquartered at a single-family private residence in Florida. Unsurprisingly, the company failed to deliver on the contract,” the release reads.

“The Trump Administration bungled the response to Hurricane Maria so badly that almost 3,000 people died – we need to get to the bottom of what happened, and that includes figuring out why we gave a $30 million contract for necessary emergency supplies to people who didn’t know what the hell they were doing,” Maloney says in the release. “This audit should be part of a comprehensive look at what this administration did wrong. We can’t ever let this happen again.”

Meanwhile, U.S. Sens Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) called for an investigation into FEMA’s awarding of large contracts to companies with “little to no experience” to carry out recovery and relief work on the island.

The senators were reacting to reporting by McClatchy on FEMA’s contracting process, and released a letter Wednesday that highlighted contracts awarded to a Puerto Rican truck-parts supplier called La Casa del Camionero, which McClatchy reported last month “has been awarded more than $40 million despite having never done any work for FEMA before and lacking direct expertise in the work being contracted out by the agency.”

Blumenthal and Warren wrote in the letter to Acting Homeland Security Inspector General John Kelly, according to McClatchy’s Washington, D.C. bureau, that the “issue here is that FEMA continues to award contracts to companies who have little to no experience, and in doing so, at the very least raises questions about its process for vetting its suppliers.”

La Casa del Camionero “was awarded a $24.7 million contract in January to store and deliver thousands of gallons diesel fuel daily. The company had only months before gotten its first federal contract and, in total, had been awarded less than $50,000 in contracts overall by other government agencies. FEMA would go on to grant more than $40 million overall in contracts for fuel storage and delivery,” McClatchy reported.

The article adds that, in September, FEMA “exercised an option in the earlier contract and awarded an extension until mid-December. It provided La Casa del Camionero another $7.26 million for its fuel storage and supply efforts.”

The report explains that “two corporate resolutions for La Casa del Camionero from the time of the contract award appear in the corporate registry as blank documents. In that time frame, the name of the woman who appeared to own or manage the company, Sandra Rodriguez, was removed and a man’s name, Fernando Soto, added.”

However, McClatchy found that the federal government spending database still lists the contract as “being made to a woman-owned business, a group that receives preference in federal contracting,” despite “no new changes of ownership or management listed” in Puerto Rico’s corporate registry.”

In February, the senators also called for a Department of Justice investigation into the government contracting process for disaster relief efforts on the island. They wrote to Attorney General Jeff Sessions and requested an investigation into FEMA’s process, saying multiple reports of contracts were “awarded to egregiously underqualified companies, amounting to hundreds of millions of dollars wasted while Puerto Ricans continue to suffer without electricity, food, or proper housing,” according to a joint release they issued back then.

They cited a report by the New York Times on Tribute Contracting LLC, which was awarded a $156 million FEMA contract to supply 30 million meals to residents of Puerto Rico and Houston, Texas. The contract was terminated after the company provided 50,000 meals that did not include “the proper preparation materials.”

US reps request subpoena of FEMA documents on contract to deliver meals to Puerto Rico

FEMA, the senators said, had previously canceled five contracts with Tribute. “Tribute, along with Whitefish Energy and Bronze Star LLC, were engaged to provide critical goods and services to Puerto Rico and other areas devastated by last year’s hurricanes. Public reporting later revealed each company had glaring ineptitudes that should have disqualified them from receiving contracts,” they reiterated.

“It is impossible to believe that Tribute, Bronze Star, and Whitefish are anomalies. Rather they are canaries in a coalmine indicating that where there are three improvidently awarded contracts, there are bound to be more,” the senators wrote to Seessions in February. “The path to recovery for Puerto Rico is long. Hundreds of millions have already been spent and billions more will be needed to restore normalcy to the island. Taxpayers deserve to know that their money is going to bona fide entities.”

Maloney’s provision passed the House of Representatives in April as part of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reauthorization bill and passed the Senate Wednesday.

The provision requires the Inspector General of the Department of Homeland Security to begin an audit of the Bronze Star contract within 30 days and issue a report to the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, as well as the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs within 270 days.

The audit must consider the contracting and evaluation process, accountability requirements, and how the contract cancellation affected the provision of supplies in Puerto Rico.

Approximately 6% of Maloney’s Hudson Valley district is of Puerto Rican ancestry, according to his office.

U.S. gov’t reveals failures in FEMA contracting during hurricane season

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