PRUDENT HOMEOWNERS know better than to hire someone for a job who has previously failed to complete work. They also know the importance of finding someone experienced in the needed work. So why on earth did the federal government award a contract to provide meals to hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico to a vendor with absolutely no experience in large-scale disaster relief and with a history of at least five canceled government contracts?
As we wait for the Trump administration to try to come up with an answer, we can’t help but wonder how many other questionable contracts were made and what role that played in the shoddy federal response to Puerto Rico.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, the Federal Emergency Management Agency was in search of firms to provide millions of meals under emergency conditions to the stricken people of Puerto Rico. The agency’s choice for a $156 million contract, the New York Times detailed in a startling report, was an Atlanta company whose only employee, Tiffany Brown, knew how to navigate federal procurement but had a checkered history of canceled government contracts. She hired a wedding caterer with a staff of 11 to freeze-dry meals and found a Texas nonprofit that shipped food aid.
Only a tiny fraction of the meals were delivered before the contract was canceled, with FEMA contending that the meals didn’t meet the requirement of being self-heating. Ms. Brown, who describes herself on Twitter as “A Diva, Mogul, Author, Idealist with scars to prove it,” allowed to the Times, “They probably should have gone with someone else.” You think?
Conditions in Puerto Rico have improved in the more than four months since Hurricane Maria hit, but they remain grim. There is still a need for emergency food and water, tarps serve as temporary roofs to provide shelter, and sizable numbers of people continue to lack power. The ineptitude so evident in the awarding of this contract is intolerable, raising questions about FEMA’s ability to respond to future disasters. No doubt three back-to-back hurricanes created unusual stresses for the agency, but surely there should be better planning in lining up potential contractors capable of doing the work when disaster hits.
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