WASHINGTON — A new law requires the Federal Emergency Management Agency to investigate how it came to award Hurricane Maria relief contracts to a company with an unproven record.
The Associated Press reported last year that the newly-formed contractor, Florida-based Bronze Star, LLC, won more than $30 million in FEMA contracts but never delivered the emergency tarps and plastic sheeting for repairs of damaged homes in Puerto Rico.
Democratic Rep. Sean Maloney of New York proposed the legislation, which was included in the Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bill, citing the AP's reporting. The provision passed both houses overwhelmingly and was signed into law by President Donald Trump on Friday.
The law requires the Inspector General of the Homeland Security Department to begin an audit of the Bronze Star contract within 30 days and to issue a report to the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs within 270 days.
The review must look at the contracting and evaluation process, accountability requirements and how the cancellation of the contracts affected the provision of supplies to people in need in Puerto Rico.
"The Trump Administration bungled the response to Hurricane Maria so badly that almost 3,000 people died - we need to get to the bottom of what happened, and that includes figuring out why we gave a $30 million contract for necessary emergency supplies to people who didn't know what the hell they were doing," Maloney said in a statement. "This audit should be part of a comprehensive look at what this administration did wrong. We can't ever let this happen again."
Trump has praised his administration's response to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico as "an incredible, unsung success."
Democrats on a Senate oversight committee found in April that FEMA failed to adequately research whether winning bidders could deliver as promised.
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 identity or their bids.
It was not clear how thoroughly FEMA investigated Bronze Star or its ability to fulfill the contracts. Formed by two brothers in August, Bronze Star had never before won a government contract or delivered tarps or plastic sheeting. The company was formed less than two months before bidding on FEMA's tarp and sheeting contracts.
And the address listed for the business is a single-family home in a residential subdivision.
Though both brothers are veterans, neither was awarded a Bronze Star, a medal earned by service members who serve heroically in combat.
One of Bronze Star's owners, Kayon Jones, told the AP previously that manufacturers he contacted before bidding on the contracts assured him they could provide the tarps but later said they could not meet the government's requirements. 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.