The Trump administration’s Federal Emergency Management Agency is facing scrutiny over its response to the deadly hurricane that ravaged Puerto Rico in 2017. House Democrats have called for a subpoena of the agency after it was disclosed that one agency contractor only delivered 50,000 of 30 million requested meals to the U.S. territory.
In September 2017, Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico. The storm destroyed broad swaths of the island’s crops, ports, roads and electrical grid.
On Feb. 6, The New York Times reported that FEMA had awarded a $156 million contract to Tribute Contracting LLC to deliver 30 million self-heating meals to Puerto Rico. The only employee of the company, entrepreneur Tiffany Brown, solicited a wedding caterer from Atlanta and a Texas nonprofit to create and ship the meals.
In October 2017, Tribute only delivered 50,000 of the 18.5 million meals promised on its first deadline. Making matters worse, the meals were packaged separately from their heating pouches.
FEMA contracting officer Carolyn Ward emailed Brown to inform her that her contract was canceled.
“Do not ship another meal,” Ward wrote. “Your contract is terminated. This is a logistical nightmare.”
The U.S. government had terminated contracts with Brown on at least five previous occasions. In December 2017, Brown filed an appeal of FEMA’s contract cancellation, asserting that the agency had not told her that the meals and heating pouches had to be packaged together.
FEMA spokesperson William Booher asserted in a statement that Puerto Ricans still received an adequate amount of meals during the disaster response.
“During the 2017 hurricane season FEMA sourced over 200 million meals through multiple vendors in order to support disaster response activities across multiple disasters,” Booher said.
On Feb. 6, House Democrats urged the House Oversight Committee chairman, GOP Rep. Trey Gowdy of South Carolina, to subpoena FEMA for all documents relating to the Tribute contract.
Democratic Rep. Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland and Democratic Del. Stacey Plaskett of the U.S. Virgin Islands submitted a letter to Gowdy demanding answers.
“It is difficult to fathom how FEMA could have believed that this tiny company had the capacity to perform this $156 million contract,” said the letter, according to NBC News.
The pair questioned whether FEMA had adequately prepared for disasters in 2017 by preemptively searching for qualified contractors.
“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,” the letter added.
Democratic Rep. Darren Soto of Florida asserted that the Tribute contract fit “a troubling recurring pattern with FEMA’s oversight of contracting procedures, from repairing the island’s electrical grid to delaying food delivery assistance. It shows clear wrongdoing and inadequate preparation from the Trump Administration to respond to disasters.”
Democratic Rep. Nydia Velazquez of New York, who was born in Puerto Rico, issued a statement blasting the Trump administration’s response to Hurricane Maria’s damage.
“The fact is this administration has let down 3.3 million American citizens as they suffer through a humanitarian crisis,” Velazquez said.
On Jan. 31, FEMA announced that it would distribute an additional 46 million liters of water and four million meals to Puerto Rico for the remainder of its disaster relief, CNN reported.
Sources: CNN, Miami Herald, NBC News, The New York Times / Featured Image: U.S. Department of Defense/Flickr / Embedded Images: U.S. Department of Defense/Flickr, U.S. Department of Agriculture/Flickr