Wednesday, 19 September, 2018

One-Person Firm Got $156M FEMA Deal. It Didn't End Well

FEMA paid $255,000 to Tribune for the 50,000 meals that were delivered FEMA paid $255,000 to Tribune for the 50,000 meals that were delivered
Melinda Barton | 07 February, 2018, 14:04

The mission for the Federal Emergency Management Agency was clear: Hurricane Maria had torn through Puerto Rico, and hungry people needed food.

The U.S. agency responsible for disaster response hired a contractor that failed to deliver millions of emergency meals in hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico past year, U.S. Democratic lawmakers said on Tuesday. FEMA canceled the contract 20 days later, having received only 50,000 of the 18.5 million meals that were due at the time.

According to the company's owner Tiffany Brown, after winning the contract the company made 50,000 deliveries before it was terminated for delays in keeping up with the deliveries. Her subcontractor didn't prepare enough meals as swiftly as FEMA wanted, and didn't package the food in "self-heating" bags, as Uncle Sam required, causing FEMA to cancel the contract, calling it "a logistical nightmare". "She subcontracted to two companies. but both stopped producing meals when they did not receive payment in a timely manner".

In the letter, Democrats highlighted the Tribute contract as the latest example of how FEMA was unprepared to handle the hurricane aftermath in Puerto Rico by not preparing contractors in advance.

On Oct. 3, FEMA awarded one of its largest food contracts to Tribute. "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. "It is unclear why FEMA or any agency would have proceeded with a contract worth $156 million in light of this company's poor contracting history and these explicit warnings", Democratic Representative Elijah Cummings said. For $5.10 each, the company agreed to provide 30 million ready-to-eat meals by October 23.

"I don't have an "in", said Brown, who describes herself as a "A Diva, Mogul, Author" on her Twitter page. Brown is disputing the termination.

"It is hard to fathom how FEMA could have believed that this tiny company had the capacity to perform this $156 million contract", Cummings and Plaskett wrote in a letter to House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-SC.

Some 75,000 unused meals sit in an Atlanta warehouse, Brown said.

"At the time of the contract termination there were ample commodity supplies in the pipeline, and distribution was not affected", said Booher, the agency spokesman.

A FEMA spokesperson said Tribute was vetted prior to the award, and that federal rules do not allow FEMA to block contractors based on prior problems with another agency.

Tribute has had three indefinite contracts with FEMA for hygiene kits since 2013, but none of them has been activated.

Cummings and Plaskett noted FEMA's decision was even more "incomprehensible" after noting Tribute had a history of failing to fulfill much smaller government contracts.

The government has also canceled Tribute contracts on at least five occasions. And, the U.S. Government Publishing Office had deemed Tribute Contracting as ineligible for contracts until January 7, 2019.

"Clearly, Tribute did not have sufficient financial resources of its own to support this contract", they wrote, according to the Times.