The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) mishandled the distribution of aid in Puerto Rico after two devastating 2017 hurricanes, the agency’s Office of Inspector General said in a report released Thursday.
In the report, the watchdog said goods could take an average of more than two months to reach the island. FEMA lost track of close to 40 percent of shipments to Puerto Rico, according to the report, and nearly all of the shipments were food and water.
The goods shipments were delayed 71 days for water and 59 days for food, according to the report.
“Although we understand FEMA’s priority on expediting commodity shipments to disaster survivors, the extent of the deviations from established operating procedures significantly increased the risk for fraud, waste, and abuse. Some flexibility and adaptation of normal processes is expected during disaster responses, but controls necessary to safeguard commodities cannot be altogether ignored,” the report states. “FEMA’s emphasis on delivering commodities to disaster survivors overrode the importance of following sound inventory management practices. When combined with poor acquisition planning prior to the hurricanes, FEMA’s management of the commodity distribution process did not function properly.”
It also faulted Puerto Rican officials for keeping insufficient track of supplies received.
The report calls for FEMA to develop a full strategy for improved tracking of such supplies in transit, as well as “robust transportation, supply chain, and general logistics contingency contracts to provide more timely and effective delivery of disaster support.” The agency should also develop internal controls for administering contracts, the report states.
While the agency agreed with four of five the inspector general's recommendations, it rejected a conclusion on distribution of goods, saying it delivered an unprecedented 63.6 million meals in the seven months after the hurricanes.
“According to FEMA, its reconciliation resulted in accounting for all but 19 of 9,775 containers shipped to Puerto Rico. It took FEMA several months to locate these containers throughout the island, and it acknowledged some were empty or were filled with different products than expected,” the report says. “Finding lost containers does not mean FEMA found the commodities in the containers. The amount of commodities that FEMA lost because of its mismanagement of the distribution process is undeterminable.”
At least 2,975 people were killed in hurricanes Irma and Maria and their aftermaths, which also did an estimated $100 billion in damages.