A Florida company that was founded in late August just a month before Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico, was awarded a $30 million contract from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to help supply the devastated U.S. territory with emergency blue tarps and plastic sheeting — but it never delivered on those urgently needed supplies.
An investigation by the Associated Press reveals that Bronze Star L.L.C., which was formed by two brothers, was awarded the multi-million dollar contract despite never having delivered supplies as part of a large-scale disaster relief operation.
The address listed for the business is a single-family home in a residential subdivision in St. Cloud, Florida.
FEMA terminated its contract with Bronze Star, without paying any money, after weeks of waiting in vain for the direly needed supplies to arrive.
The federal agency must now search for another firm that can provide the plastic sheeting supplies, after waiting four weeks for Bronze Star to make good on its promises.
“Thousands of Puerto Ricans remain homeless, and many complain that the federal government is taking too long to install tarps,” reports the AP. “The U.S. territory has been hit by severe rainstorms in recent weeks that have caused widespread flooding.”
Kayon Jones, one of the brothers who founded Bronze Star, claims that manufacturers he contacted before he bidded on the FEMA contract assured him they could provide the tarps but later said they could not meet the government’s requirements.
He also blamed Hurricane Harvey’s flooding in Houston for disrupting the supply chain of raw materials that come from the coastal Texas city.
Jones said he sought a waiver from FEMA to allow him to order tarps from a Chinese manufacturer and for more time, but FEMA denied his request.
“We were trying to help; it wasn’t about making money or anything like that,” Jones claims.
The AP notes:
FEMA awarded the company two contracts Oct. 10 to provide 500,000 tarps and 60,000 rolls of plastic sheeting. More than a half dozen others also bid, but FEMA said it could not provide details about their bids.
“The award of a government contract to a company with absolutely no experience in producing the materials sought obviously raises very bright red flags,” said Dan Feldman, professor of public management at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice at City University of New York. “I would hope and assume that the inspector general for the Department of Homeland Security would begin immediately to take a very hard look at this process.”
“Submissions from potential contractors are objectively evaluated, and a contract is awarded based on the highest-rated submission,” said FEMA spokesman Ron Roth.
Roth noted that the agency’s review process was “somewhat expedited” after Hurricane Maria to respond as quickly as possible to the emergency.
“In every circumstance, regardless of the award, whether it’s $400 to the local stationery company for envelopes, or it’s $400 million for a construction contract, the contracting officer is required to make a responsibility determination,” Miller said. “Does this company have the infrastructure; do they have the inventory processes, the production processes, the financial capability, for performing the work?”
Bronze Star’s contract represented 35 percent of the federal money that so far as been awarded to companies that supply tents and tarps.
This is the second time in the past month that serious questions have been raised about FEMA’s awarding of disaster relief contracts to help Puerto Rico.
Last month, Puerto Rico canceled a $300 million no-bid contract awarded to a tiny Montana-based firm.
WhiteFish Energy drew widespread scrutiny after FEMA awarded the firm a contract to restore power across the island despite having only two full-time employees at the time of Maria’s landfall.