An Atlanta woman whose one-person company was contracted by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to provide millions of meals to Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, but delivered only a fraction of that, says that FEMA is to blame.
Tiffany Brown, who is listed as the only employee of Tribute Contracting LLC, last year got a $156 million FEMA contract to provide 30 million meals to Puerto Rico at a cost of $5.10 each.
According to a congressional investigation, she was the lowest bidder.
Once Brown received the contract, she then subcontracted the job to two companies, including a caterer in Atlanta, with 11 employees. So for those counting, that would be about 12 people delivering 30 million meals.
“[The subcontractor] told me she was experienced with this work,” Brown said to CBS News. “As time went on, she would be able to hire additional people to scale up.”
Except that didn’t happen. Only 50,000 of the 30 million meals were delivered. FEMA says that it terminated the contract “due to late delivery.”
FEMA says that the company was vetted, yet a congressional inquiry led by House Democrats on the House oversight committee revealed that Tribute had five previous government contracts terminated for “not delivering required food” and “inability to ship products.”
Ranking member Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) and Del. Stacey Plaskett, who represents the U.S. Virgin Islands, sent a letter to Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) on Friday, showing that Tribute had a history of failing to fulfill government contracts; one agency even issued a warning saying that the company could not deliver on time.
“To issue a systemwide warning saying this is not a company to do business with, then how could they have been prepared to do a $156 million contract with a one-person operation?” Plaskett asked.
For her part, Brown says, “My biggest mistake was not asking for more help.”
Cummings and Plaskett are asking for FEMA officials to be subpoenaed over this disaster.
“It is difficult to fathom how FEMA could have believed that this tiny company had the capacity to perform this $156 million contract,” Democrats wrote in the letter to Gowdy. “There have been numerous examples of disastrous contracting decisions by agencies that selected the lowest bidder without conducting an adequate analysis of the company’s ability to deliver on the contract.”
Here’s where it gets crazy.
Tiffany Brown is seeking a settlement of at least $70 million from FEMA, according to ABC.
She says she wants to make sure that the other companies she hired are “made whole” and are able to pay the debt they took on to fulfill the contract for 30 million meals. The government does not pay for meals up front but only after delivery.
There is some dispute between Brown and the agency over the terms of the contract (e.g., whether it contractually bound her to include components for heating the meals with the meals); Brown says she thought that FEMA would give her a chance to correct the problem, although she was reportedly late in delivering the first batch of meals.
After Brown notified FEMA in the Oct. 19 email that 36,000 meals were en route—with the meals packaged separately from the heating component—a FEMA official told her that was not acceptable and told her not to deliver the meals.
“This is a logistical nightmare,” the official wrote in an email to Brown informing her the contract would be terminated. Brown said Friday that FEMA knew she never intended to package the meals and heating components together.
She’s filed a complaint with the Department of Homeland Security inspector general alleging that the real reason FEMA cancelled is the dispute over whether the meals were “self-heating meals” as called for in the FEMA contract and not the delay.
“I resent the fact that this is turning into an attack; it’s an attack on FEMA using me as a vessel. Please don’t use me as a vessel. if you want to attack FEMA or address FEMA’s concerns, please attack it from a more intelligent perspective instead of it being about me,” Brown said Friday.
The verdict: This is a hot-ass mess created by a greedy woman and an inept agency. The sad part is that the people of Puerto Rico are suffering because of it.