May 08, 2019

Homeland Security Watchdog Finds FEMA "did not follow procurement laws (and) regulations," and Wrongly Awarded Failed Bronze Star LLC Puerto Rico Contract

IG investigation, started at Senator Warren's request, finds FEMA "wasted personnel resources, time, and taxpayer money" and prolonged suffering for Hurricane Maria victims in Puerto Rico

Washington, DC -- United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) today made the following statement after the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Inspector General (IG) released its investigation, which Senators Warren and Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) requested in December 2017, into FEMA's decision to award over $30 million in contracts to Bronze Star LLC for temporary roofing materials in Puerto Rico that were never delivered. Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.), and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) joined in this request.

"The Trump Administration's disaster response in Puerto Rico has been a tragic mess, including FEMA's Hurricane Maria contracting efforts," Senator Warren said. "Today we learned that FEMA did not follow federal procurements laws and regulations when it hired Bronze Star -- an inexperienced contractor that failed to deliver, wasting money and creating unnecessary suffering in Puerto Rico. The ongoing suffering is heartbreaking and inexcusable -- and President Trump needs to answer for his Administration's failure and indifference."

Senator Warren's statement comes in response to the IG's findings: "FEMA did not follow all relevant laws, regulations, and procedures when awarding the two Bronze Star contracts. Specifically, contrary to Federal Acquisition Regulation(s) ... FEMA did not determine Bronze Star's capability or the capability of its supplier to fulfill the terms and conditions of the contracts. FEMA did not request acceptable evidence of a commitment or explicit arrangement from Bronze Star's supplier or require Bronze Star to 'affirmatively' demonstrate its responsibility or that of its proposed supplier." 

The IG concluded that these problems "delayed delivery of crucial supplies and impeded Puerto Rican residents' efforts to protect their homes and prevent further damage."

The IG also noted that the issues highlighted in their report "are not unique to the Bronze Star contracts," adding that the deficiencies in the Bronze Star contracting process "are indicative of systemic problems that FEMA must address to uphold the integrity of its procurement process." The IG reported that FEMA has been forced to terminate 19 contracts related to Hurricane Maria. The IG issued two recommendations "intended to help ensure similar issues are not repeated in future disaster-related contracts." FEMA, however, refused to accept the IG's recommendations, which remain "open and unresolved." The IG was "surprised by FEMA's non-concurrence" with the recommendations. The IG also stated that "FEMA has not improved its contracting processes in the wake of the Bronze Star terminations."

Hurricane Maria caused billions of dollars in property damage, and left many Puerto Ricans without adequate shelter. As part of recovery efforts, FEMA was responsible for providing tarps and plastic sheeting to thousands of affected homeowners, including awarding $88 million in federal contracts for the provision of tarps that can be installed by homeowners. In early October, Bronze Star received two contracts from FEMA totaling over $30 million to provide 60,000 rolls of plastic sheeting and 500,000 tarps. However, reports made public the fact that Bronze Star never delivered. FEMA ultimately terminated its contract with Bronze Star, a new company with no proven track record in federal procurement, in early November. But Bronze Star's failures resulted in a month-long delay in the delivery of these crucial supplies to the island, and left thousands of Puerto Ricans living without roofs.

"FEMA's disastrous, botched contract with Bronze Star literally left American citizens in the pouring rain, delaying for a month the relief they needed," said Senator Menendez. "Today, it's clear that FEMA's contracting incompetence was systemic and they've not improved it -- even after these miserable failures.  The stories of continued suffering and the Trump Administration's nickel and diming of the people of Puerto Rico, who have yet to fully rebuild their lives, is disgraceful and un-American."

"This report is astonishing and appalling.  FEMA brazenly disregarded federal law and procedures when it awarded an unproven company over $30 million to support disaster recovery in Puerto Rico," said Senator Blumenthal. "The Trump Administration’s response to the loss of life and devastation caused by Hurricane Maria is an abject failure. As they work to rebuild and heal, the people of Puerto Rico shouldn’t have to contend with the ineptitude at FEMA and a President who treats them like enemies instead of American citizens."

"The DHS Inspector General confirmed what we expected: FEMA grossly mismanaged federal resources in this bidding process," Senator Durbin said. "It's inherently wrong, and the people of Puerto Rico suffered at great cost because of it. We must hold FEMA accountable."

Investigation of the Bronze Star contract is just one example of Senator Warren's ongoing efforts to provide oversight of FEMA's contracting process for the relief and recovery efforts following Hurricane Maria. In February 2018, she led a group of seven senators in sending a letter regarding the botched $156 million contract awarded to Tribute Contracting LLC for emergency meals provided after the hurricane. In October 2018, Senators Blumenthal and Warren sent the DHS IG another letter regarding FEMA's awarding of contracts to companies with little or no experience in conducting the work assigned to them. In December 2018, Senator Warren and three colleagues sent another letter to the DHS IG requesting that the IG expand its ongoing investigation into FEMA's contracting in Puerto Rico to include new reports of waste and abuse associated with the contractors hired to execute and manage the $1.2 billion Tu Hogar Renace program.

FEMA's failure to provide adequate aid and assistance to Puerto Rico further compounds the difficulties many Puerto Ricans continue to face. As a steadfast champion for Puerto Rico, Senator Warren has been addressing the inadequate disaster response and slow recovery efforts. For more information about her extensive work fighting for robust recovery efforts for Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands since Hurricanes Irma and Maria, visit