By TAMI ABDOLLAH
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Department of Homeland Security’s internal watchdog is investigating how a fledgling Florida company won more than $30 million in contracts for desperately needed disaster relief supplies in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria.
Acting Inspector General John Kelly said in a letter addressed to Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., on Wednesday that he would review the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s awards to Bronze Star LLC. He said he recognizes concerns that the Saint Cloud, Florida-based company was awarded contracts despite its lack of experience.
The Associated Press first reported last month that Bronze Star failed to deliver the emergency tarps and plastic sheeting needed to cover tens of thousands of Puerto Rican homes damaged by the storm’s winds. FEMA ultimately terminated the contracts this month without paying any money, but the episode caused a delay of four weeks.
“As a result of these botched contracts, many Puerto Ricans have failed to get the tents, tarps, and temporary roofing supplies they desperately need,” Warren said in a statement. “The federal government’s response to the needs of the U.S. citizens of Puerto Rico remains unconscionably inadequate, and the investigation of these contracts cannot come soon enough.”
The review was requested this month by Democratic senators, including Warren, Bob Menendez of New Jersey, Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada, Dick Durbin of Illinois and Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin. They are joined by Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont.
The senior Democrat on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, has also asked FEMA Administrator Brock Long, in a letter sent last month after AP’s report, to provide her with information on how FEMA evaluated Bronze Star.
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 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.
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.