FEMA Botched Another Big Contract

JM Ashby
Written by JM Ashby

A small, two-person contractor known as Whitefish Energy became infamous last fall after the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) contracted the tiny company to rebuild Puerto Rico's energy grid following Hurricane Maria. Whitefish, whose previous largest contract was worth very little compared to the FEMA job, eventually lost the contract after the public discovered they were charging exorbitant rates for subcontractors.

Hiring a two-person company to rebuild the entire island's electrical grid may have seemed like the height of no-bid contracting incompetence, but it may not have been.

The New York Times reported this morning that FEMA contracted a one-person company to feed the island and, not surprisingly, it didn't go well.

For this huge task, FEMA tapped Tiffany Brown, an Atlanta entrepreneur with no experience in large-scale disaster relief and at least five canceled government contracts in her past. FEMA awarded her $156 million for the job, and Ms. Brown, who is the sole owner and employee of her company, Tribute Contracting LLC, set out to find some help.

Ms. Brown, who is adept at navigating the federal contracting system, hired a wedding caterer in Atlanta with a staff of 11 to freeze-dry wild mushrooms and rice, chicken and rice, and vegetable soup. She found a nonprofit in Texas that had shipped food aid overseas and domestically, including to a Houston food bank after Hurricane Harvey.

By the time 18.5 million meals were due, Tribute had delivered only 50,000. And FEMA inspectors discovered a problem: The food had been packaged separately from the pouches used to heat them. FEMA’s solicitation required “self-heating meals.”

“Do not ship another meal. Your contract is terminated,” Carolyn Ward, the FEMA contracting officer who handled Tribute’s agreement, wrote to Ms. Brown in an email dated Oct. 19 that Ms. Brown provided to The New York Times. “This is a logistical nightmare.”

If you were wondering why it was necessary for a team led by celebrity Chef Jose Andres to descend on Puerto Rico and prepare literally millions of meals, this must have been at least one reason why.

I don't want to make light of the situation, but I trust that Jose Andres also prepared significantly better meals. Andres personally put his elbow into it and helped cook over 150,000 hot meals per day at one point.

Meanwhile, this one-person company shipped some wild mushrooms to the island; to Puerto Rico. That in itself seems like a crime.

  • muselet

    FEMA contracted with a one-person shop with a history of canceled federal contracts to provide 18.5 million self-heating meals.

    I’m as thick as mince and I can see the problem with that.

    But hey, it only cost $156 million and didn’t inconvenience anyone important, so no harm, no foul, right?


    • JMAshby

      It’s worse than that. She was contracted to provide -30 million- meals, but she missed an initial deadline for 18.5 million.

      I should have made that more clear.

      • muselet

        Yeah, I saw the 30 million number maybe five minutes after I posted my comment but decided to correct myself later.



  • ninjaf

    How long before reporting reveals some sort of cronyism going on?

    • Badgerite

      Just what I was thinking. Who did this “one person” know to get this kind of contract?

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    • JMAshby

      I think it’s right there in the report.

      Ms. Brown, who is adept at navigating the federal contracting system

      That’s code for knowing the right people.