Contractor awarded $156 million to provide 30 million meals to Puerto Rico only delivered 50,000: report

A contractor who was awarded a massive contract to provide millions of meals to Puerto Ricans affected by Hurricane Maria drastically underdelivered, according to a New York Times investigation.

Tiffany Brown, an Atlanta entrepreneur and self-described government contractor who owns Tribute Contracting LLC, was awarded the $156 million contract by FEMA on Oct. 3 to provide 30 million self-heating meals to Puerto Rico, but only followed through on 50,000.

Brown, the sole employee of her company, hired an 11-person wedding catering company and a Texas nonprofit that had shipped food to a Houston food bank during Hurricane Harvey to provide the meals.

But Brown’s contract was terminated by email on Oct. 19, after Brown failed to meet a deadline of providing the first 18.5 million meals. She had only delivered 50,000, according to the Times. 

Carolyn Ward, a FEMA official who handled the contract with Brown’s company, wrote in an email to Brown, seen by the Times, that the operation was “a logistical nightmare.”

“Do not ship another meal. Your contract is terminated,” Ward wrote.

A FEMA spokesman told the Times that other suppliers provided “ample” food and water for Puerto Ricans, and that Tribute’s contract did not result in any missed meals.

This is at least the sixth government contract awarded to Tribute that has been canceled, according to the Times. Brown’s company has been awarded dozens of contracts, but has failed to deliver on several, including four that required her to deliver food products to correctional facilities in the Federal Prison System.

At the time the FEMA contract was awarded, the Government Publishing Office had a ban on awarding contracts of more than $35,000 to Tribute until January 2019 due to a mishandled project.

Brown is now fighting the FEMA contract termination and seeking a $70 million settlement. Her appeal argues that FEMA canceled her contract because the meals Tribute provided were packaged separately from their heating pouches, and claims that FEMA did not say the meals had to be self-heating.

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The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee is investigating the Tribute contract. Committee Democrats criticized FEMA in a letter to committee chairman Trey GowdyHarold (Trey) Watson GowdyRyan: 'The president must appreciate that Russia is not our ally' Gowdy rules out Rosenstein impeachment Russians' indictment casts shadow ahead of Trump-Putin summit MORE (R-S.C.), saying that FEMA should have considered Tribute’s history and lack of large-scale disaster relief experience before awarding the contract.

“Clearly, Tribute did not have sufficient financial resources of its own to support this contract,” they wrote, according to the Times. “FEMA should have raised serious questions about whether the company could meet the contract terms — especially since the contract concerned such a critical need.”

In the letter, Democrats highlighted the Tribute contract as the latest example of how FEMA was unprepared to handle the hurricane aftermath in Puerto Rico by not preparing contractors in advance.

“It appears that the Trump administration’s response to the hurricanes in Puerto Rico in 2017 suffered from the same flaws as the Bush Administration’s response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005,” they wrote.

FEMA and the Puerto Rican government reached an agreement earlier this month to continue providing food and water to affected communities, after the agency faced major backlash following a report that it would stop the distribution.