Four months after Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, we’re finally getting a clearer look into some of the most scandalous parts of the American response to the tragedy.
On Tuesday, a New York Times exposé revealed the decision by FEMA to award one of its largest Puerto Rican recovery contracts to an Atlanta entrepreneur named Tiffany Brown. Her company, Tribute Contracting LLC, had no employees and no experience in large-scale disaster relief.
Brown identifies herself on her Twitter profile as “Diva, Mogul, Author, [and] Idealist with scars to prove it.” Her website has tips on makeup, fashion, and interior design. She also has at least five canceled government contracts in her past, according to The Times. Somehow, none of this appeared to be an issue with FEMA.
On October 3, 2017, FEMA officials awarded a contract valued at $155,982,000 to Tribute to deliver 30 million emergency meals to Puerto Rico, according to the House Committee on Oversight. Brown apparently started by hiring a wedding caterer in Atlanta with a staff of 11 to freeze-dry various kinds of soup, according to The Times.
By the time the first 18,500,000 meals were due, Brown’s business had delivered only 50,000. That’s 0.27 percent of the total meals she was contracted to deliver. And to make matters worse, the food her company delivered was not properly packed. FEMA’s solicitation required “self-heating meals,” but Tribute delivered food “packaged separately from the pouches used to heat them,” according to The Times.
FEMA terminated the contract with Brown’s company, citing a “a logistical nightmare,” according to an email reviewed by The Times. Brown insisted she could have delivered the 30 million meals, though The Times said that was unlikely. Now, Brown wants FEMA to pay her a settlement of at least $70 million so she can pay the subcontractors she hired to supply the food.
FEMA did not provide any comment to The Times because the contract is pending an appeal.
The New York Times exposé sounds eerily familiar to an investigation
The Associated Press published in November. That report revealed that FEMA gave a new Florida company $30 million in contracts to provide 500,000 tarps and 60,000 rolls of plastic sheeting. The company never delivered those urgently needed supplies. It’s also similar to the scandal over the contract Puerto Rico’s energy company signed with Whitefish Energy, a tiny Montana firm with close ties to the Trump administration and little experience with large-scale power-outages.