Cortez Masto, Colleagues Call for Investigation of Botched FEMA Contracts for Hurricane Recovery Efforts in Puerto Rico
Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) joined a group of senators led by U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) in calling for an investigation of the Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA) decision, following the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria, to award over $30 million in contracts to Bronze Star LLC for temporary roofing materials in Puerto Rico that were never delivered.
The hurricane caused billions of dollars in property damage, and left many Puerto Ricans without adequate shelter. As part of recovery efforts, FEMA has been responsible for providing tarps and plastic sheeting to thousands of affected homeowners, including awarding $88 million in federal contracts for the provision of tarps that can be installed by homeowners. In early October, Bronze Star received two contracts from FEMA totaling over $30 million to provide 60,000 rolls of plastic sheeting and 500,000 tarps. But according to recent reports, Bronze Star never delivered.
FEMA ultimately terminated its contract with Bronze Star, a new company with no proven track record in federal procurement, in early November. But Bronze Star's failures resulted in a month-long delay in the delivery of these crucial supplies to the island, and has left thousands of Puerto Ricans living without roofs.
"More than two months after the hurricane devastated Puerto Rico, rain continues to fall regularly and thousands of people have not been able to return to their roofless homes," wrote the senators. "Faulty contracting procedures have only delayed relief to the people of Puerto Rico, and we find this unacceptable."
Senators Cortez Masto and Warren, along with U.S. Senators Bob Menéndez (D-N.J.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), wrote to the Inspector General of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), who oversees FEMA, to request an investigation into how Bronze Star received the contract, as well as what steps the agency has taken since the contract was ended to improve its contracting processes.
The text of the letter can be found below and here.
December 5, 2017
Acting Inspector General
Office of Inspector General
Department of Homeland Security
245 Murray Ln., S.W.
Washington, D.C. 20528
Dear Acting Inspector General Kelly:
We write regarding the Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA) decision to
award over $30 million in contracts to Bronze Star LLC (Bronze Star)-"a newly created Florida
company with an unproven record"- as part of the agency's critical hurricane recovery efforts in
Puerto Rico. We are concerned by reports that Bronze Star failed to deliver much-needed
supplies to Puerto Rico and ultimately lost its contract-leading to major delays in the delivery
of recovery services to the island. We request that you conduct an investigation to determine
how Bronze Star won this contract, and whether all relevant procurement laws, regulations, and
procedures were followed in FEMA's decision to award the contract.
Hurricane Maria hit the island of Puerto Rico on September 20, 2017, a "catastrophic
event" that left millions of U.S. citizens without power or access to clean drinking water. To
date, 76 days after the hurricane's landfall, nearly 1.1 million Americans on the island still have
no power and over 300,000 do not have access to clean drinking water.
Hurricane Maria also resulted in billions of dollars of property damage, leaving many
Puerto Ricans without roofs over their heads. To help mitigate the impacts of disasters, FEMA
and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers provide tarps and plastic sheeting to affected
homeowners. To date, the U.S. Army Corps' "Operation Blue Roof' program has installed over 11,000 temporary roofs for eligible homeowners. FEMA, meanwhile, has awarded $88 million
in federal contracts for the provision of its "self-help tarps": "loose-fitting sheets of waterproof
material that can be tied to structures with grommets" that are installed by the homeowners
themselves. Over 90,000 tarps have been delivered to Puerto Rico by FEMA contractors-but
thousands of people are still without roofs. For example, in the small town of Comerio 1,689
homes lost their roofs during the storm. The town's Mayor, Josian Santiago, requested 1,200
Blue Roof Tarps of which only 600 have been approved. To date, 70 days after Hurricane Maria
ravaged the island only 100 tarps have been delivered and installed.
Given the high demand for tarps in Puerto Rico, we were concerned to learn ofFEMA's
decision to award Bronze Star LLC with over $30 million worth of federal contracts. On
October 5, 2017, FEMA awarded Bronze Star a $21,193,960 contract for "tents and tarpaulins"
to be delivered to Puerto Rico. On October 10, 2017, FEMA awarded the company an additional
$9,240,200 contract. 10 In total, the company was commissioned to deliver 60,000 rolls of plastic sheeting and 500,000 tarps. However, recent reports reveal that Bronze Star "never delivered" the tarps it promised FEMA-leading to the contracts' terminations on November 6, 2017 and a delay in the delivery of supplies to the island.
Bronze Star LLC is a Florida-based company that "had never before won a government
contract or delivered tarps or plastic sheeting"I2-yet it beat out at least six other companies for
the Puerto Rico contracts. While the Bronze Star contracts are ultimately being filled by a company with "roughly two decades of federal contracting experience," it is problematic and
concerning that FEMA awarded Bronze Star contracts in the first place.
More than two months after the Hurricane devastated Puerto Rico, rain continues to fall
regularly and thousands of people have not been able to return to their roofless homes. Faulty
contracting procedures have only delayed relief to the people of Puerto Rico, and we find this
unacceptable. We therefore ask you to conduct an investigation of the following questions:
- What was the process by which Bronze Star was awarded the FEMA contracts?
- What steps did FEMA take to determine whether Bronze Star was capable of fulfilling the contracts it was issued on October 5th and October 1oth7 What findings did FEMA make regarding the company's track record, its infrastructure, its inventory and production processes, and its financial capabilities?
- What steps did FEMA take to determine whether the other companies bidding on the contracts were capable of fulfilling them? Why did FEMA choose Bronze Star over these other companies? If.-as FEMA has told the media-the "potential contractors are objectively evaluated, and a contract is awarded based on the highest-rated submission,"13 what were the objective criteria, the technical evaluations of each bidder, and the ratings of each bidder?
- Did FEMA follow all relevant laws, regulations, and procedures in awarding Bronze Star its contracts?
- Did FEMA recover all funds paid to Bronze Star under the contracts that were cancelled?
- Has FEMA cancelled other contracts for supplies to Puerto Rico, including but not limited to tarps and plastic sheeting, due to a contractor's inability to fulfill the contract?
- What steps has FEMA taken in the wake of the Bronze Star terminations to analyze and improve its contracting processes?
Please do not hesitate to contact Alex Blenkinsopp of Senator Warren's staff at 202-224-4543 or
Angel Colon-Rivera of Senator Menendez's at 202-224-4744 with any questions or concerns.
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