Two months after Hurricane Maria ravaged Puerto Rico, thousands of the island’s residents remain homeless—an inescapable situation that was undoubtedly exacerbated by the failings yet another shady company awarded a multimillion dollar government contract.
The Associated Press reported on Tuesday that a newly formed Florida company, Bronze Star LLC, won a $30 million contract to supply Puerto Rico with plastic tarps and plastic sheets for temporary emergency roof repairs. Bronze Star was awarded the contracts on Oct. 10. By Nov. 6, the sibling-owned company had failed to deliver the supplies and FEMA canceled the contract without payment.
Kayon Jones, who served in the Navy for three years, co-owns the company with his brother, Richard Jones. Neither Kayon nor Richard, who served in the Army, won Bronze Stars. Speaking to the AP, Kayon defended their intentions and blamed Bronze Star’s supplier for the failure:
“We were trying to help; it wasn’t about making money or anything like that,” Jones said.
Followed by an inevitable “it’s not our fault” excuse:
Jones said supplying the materials was problematic because most of the raw materials came out of Houston, which was hit hard by Hurricane Harvey. He said he sought a waiver from FEMA to allow him to order tarps from a Chinese manufacturer and for more time, but FEMA denied the request.
While FEMA continues to defend its evaluation process, there are some red flags that seem to suggest Bronze Star might not have been capable of delivering as promised. For example, the AP noted that the business address was a single-family home in Florida, which is, you know, not exactly a sign of reliability. Bronze Star, which was created in August, had also never delivered tarps or plastic sheeting before, experience that might be necessary for the swift delivery of 500,000 tarps.
FEMA would have known all of this, but apparently decided to take the chance because Bronze Star offered the cheapest deal in bidding. “Regulation requires the government to neither prefer, nor hold against a company its ‘newness’ to federal contracts, and requires that the lowest price, technically acceptable bid be selected,” FEMA’s acting press secretary, Jenny Burke, told BuzzFeed News. (The AP also noted that contract solicitation process gave preference to veterans.)
Bronze Star’s clear ineptitude coupled with FEMA’s lack of due diligence only worsened Puerto Rico’s nightmare: 60,000 people on the island still need roofs, according to the island’s FEMA director, and only half the island has electricity.