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Sunday, December 3, 2017

Trump regime finds new ways to screw Puerto Rico

More terrible contracting and funding decisions leave island adrift
Trump returns to take back paper towels from ungrateful Puerto Ricans
There are more questions about how millions in contracts have been awarded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to provide desperately needed services and materials to Puerto Rico in the wake of devastating Hurricane Maria. 

The contract awarded to the fledging Montana company Whitefish Energy, which has now been canceled,  is not the only case of millions in business being awarded by President Trump’s FEMA to a company that has no infrastructure, no significant history and little ability to do the job it promised to do.

In the case of Whitefish, the federal government blamed the government of Puerto Rico for giving a $300 million contract to a recently formed company with few employees and no real headquarters, let alone experience doing the job for which it contracted.

FEMA can’t make the same excuse about Bronze Star LLC, , a newly created Florida company that it awarded $30 million in contracts to provide emergency tarps and plastic sheeting desperately needed to cover homes and buildings where the roof was torn off and there was other damage when the hurricane made land on the island in September.

Image result for bronze star llc floridaAbout a month after the contract was granted in competitive bidding, Bronze Star had still not delivered the badly needed supplies, and FEMA was forced to terminate the contract and then restart the entire process of finding reputable vendors while the people of Puerto Rico continue to suffer.

Besides the hurricane, the island has been drenched by severe rainstorms which have caused extensive flooding, while the lack of the tarps and plastic covers left homeless Puerto Ricans, to paraphrase an old joke,  literally up the river without a paddle.

At least 60,000 structures island-wide still need the “blue roofs” with only 350 being installed each day. “One of the limiting factors is the availability of the material,” admitted Michael Byrne, Puerto Rico’s FEMA coordination officer.

These tragic mistakes have raised new questions about the process FEMA has used to award contracts to quickly provide what Puerto Ricans need to restore electricity and clean water, fix roads and buildings, and other badly needed services and materials. One criterion FEMA uses is to favor contractors who are owned and run by veterans. 

That may have been a factor in awarding the contract to Bronze Star, which makes it an, even more, egregious case of mismanagement since neither of the two Jones’ brothers who run the startup out of single-family house in a residential neighborhood in St Cloud, Florida, had ever got a Bronze Star, although both are veterans.

You might think another tipoff might have been that Bronze Star had never before won any kind of government contract and has no history of being able to deliver tarps or plastic of the kind needed in Puerto Rico, but you would be wrong.

Yet on October 10, FEMA awarded two contracts to Bronze Star, one to provide 500,000 tarps and the other for 60,000 rolls of plastic sheeting.
“The award of a government contract to a company with absolutely no experience in producing the materials sought obviously raises very bright red flags,” Dan Feldman, professor of public management at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice at City University in New York, told the Associated Press.
“I would hope and assume,” adds Feldman, “that the inspector general of the Department of Homeland Security would begin immediately to take a very hard look at this process.”

Instead, Ron Roth, a spokesman for FEMA, had a litany of excuses. He said that due to the emergency FEMA expedited the process to respond quickly to the crisis, but he insisted the agency still did its due diligence.
“Submissions from potential contractors are objectively evaluated,” insists Roth, “and a contract is awarded based on the highest-rated submission.”
That is supposed to take into account a contractors ability to deliver what it promises, its past performance and the best value available in terms of price and items that can meet specific specifications.

Alan Miller, an attorney with nearly two decades of experience advising federal contractors, told the AP that FEMA must look at whether the company has the right infrastructure, “do they have the inventory process, the production process, the financial capability, for performing the work?”

After the cancellation of the Bronze Star contract, FEMA quickly awarded the contract for plastic sheeting to OSC Solutions Inc of West Palm Beach, Florida, that has two decades experience handling government contracts and has produced the kind of supplies need a number of times in the past.

Bronze Star was not paid for the work it did not do.

Related imageThose are not the only questionable contracts the FEMA has granted. Earlier in November, the House Energy committee raised questions about a $200 million contract awarded October 19 to Mammoth Energy Service’s Cobra Acquisitions LLC, to repair power poles and power lines in and around San Juan.

The contract was written, as in the case of Whitefish, to prevent serious government oversight of the agreement, which raises, even more, questions about how FEMA operates.

Cobra Acquisitions, according to The Intercept, which started as a business this year, is a subsidiary of an oil industry services company in Oklahoma.
“Unlike the Whitefish contract,” reports The Intercept, “the Cobra deal with PREPA involved heavy input from (FEMA), which – according to a recent conference call convened by Mammoth Energy Services – was “in the room” and there “every step of the way.”
The article says that it believes the Inspector General of the Department of Homeland Security is investigating the Cobra contracts.

When President Trump visited Puerto Rico Rico he praised FEMA for its quick action even though weeks had passed, and now months, without the basic services like electric, water, medical and communications being fully restored.

An emergency of this scale is certainly a challenge, but FEMA seems to have been much better at addressing the needs in Texas and Florida, which were also hit by hurricanes, than it has done in Puerto Rico.

It has been suggested that is racism because the population of Puerto Rico is mostly Hispanic, and the failure of Congress to properly fund the effort there seems to back that up.

Ultimately, however, it is up to Trump and his administration to make sure FEMA is doing the job in Puerto Rico, and as of now, that remains a very serious question. 

Trump doesn’t seem to care much. After his brief visit to San Juan to provide pictures to prove he is doing something, little has been heard or done by the president to actually solve the problems and relieve the suffering of some three million Americans on the island.

While Trump is concerned about protests by pro football players, playing gold and jamming through tax cuts for big corporations and the super-rich, the on-going, unsolved, tragic problems of Puerto Rico continue.