Residents of San Isidro, P.R., wait for food and water in October 2017. Photo: The New York Times

By Patricia Mazzei And Agustin Armendariz
6 February 2018

(The New York Times) – The mission for the Federal Emergency Management Agency was clear: Hurricane Maria had torn through Puerto Rico, and hungry people needed food. Thirty million meals needed to be delivered as soon as possible.

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 19 October 2018 that Ms. Brown provided to The New York Times. “This is a logistical nightmare.”

Four months after Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, a picture is emerging of the contracts awarded in the earliest days of the crisis. And examples like the Tribute contract are causing lawmakers to raise questions about FEMA’s handling of the disaster and whether the agency was adequately prepared to respond.

On Tuesday, Democrats on the House Oversight Committee, which has been investigating the contract, asked Representative Trey Gowdy, the committee chairman, to subpoena FEMA for all documents relating to the agreement. Lawmakers fear the agency is not lining up potential contractors in advance of natural disasters, leading it to scramble to award multimillion-dollar agreements in the middle of a crisis.

After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, a bipartisan congressional investigation found that a failure to secure advance contracts led to chaos and potential for waste and fraud. Democrats asserted that FEMA was similarly inept preparing for this storm.

“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,” wrote Representatives Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland and Stacey E. Plaskett, the nonvoting delegate from the United States Virgin Islands. [more]

FEMA Contract Called for 30 Million Meals for Puerto Ricans. 50,000 Were Delivered.

By Charles B. Pierce
6 February 2018

(Esquire) – Seventy years ago this coming June, in an effort to get the Western allies to abandon entirely the city of Berlin, the occupying forces of the Soviet Union embarked upon a rigid blockade of the city, cutting off the city’s water supply and blocking all deliveries of food from the outside. They also cut off the city’s electric power. A million and a half Soviet troops surrounded the city.

It was decided by the allied powers that the city would be supplied by air. Led by the United States, the air forces of Canada, France, Great Britain, Australia, South Africa all combined to deliver nearly $2.5 million worth of supplies—including coal—to Berlin over the next year. This was the Berlin Airlift. This is what we used to be able to do. This is what we used to be proud of being able to do. Now, almost 70 years on, we get this, from CNN.

US Rep. Elijah Cummings and Stacey Plaskett, the congressional delegate from the US Virgin Islands, signed a letter to House Oversight Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy on Tuesday morning, calling into question a $156 million contract awarded to a small Atlanta-based company, Tribute Contracting LLC. The company delivered 50,000 of the 30 million meals promised in a contract signed October 3, less than 0.25 percent, according to Tribute Contracting owner Tiffany Brown.
According to documents that Brown provided to CNN, FEMA terminated the agreement -- the largest direct meals contract during the 2017 hurricane season -- "due to late delivery of the approved heater meals." The contract was terminated October 23, 20 days after it was signed. "One of the primary reasons FEMA failed to deliver these meals is because it inexplicably awarded a contract worth approximately $156 million to deliver 30 million emergency meals to a tiny, one-person company with a history of struggling with much smaller contracts," Cummings and Plaskett said in the letter. […]

If this reminds you of that tiny Montana company that got the really big contract to restore power in Puerto Rico, that’s only because it should. Seventy years ago, 70 airmen lost their lives in the effort that saved Berlin. Today, we have substituted profiteering and ineptitude for sacrifice and creativity. Running the country like a business, as it were. [more]

FEMA Gave a 1-Person Company $156 Million to Deliver Meals in Puerto Rico


  1. Food Assets said...

    We were contacted (several times) by middleman contractors seeking to fulfill contracts for "hurricane relief meals" for FEMA. Nothing came out of it. They literally wanted them "yesterday", demanding immediate delivery, and I mean "right now".

    It was very clear to me early on that these contractors had virtually no idea what they were doing. Or what was to be expected. Or any of the logistics involved.

    Every hurricane season sees this same kind of 'profiteering' going on. Inexperienced, inept profiteers seeks to make a quick mega-sale with storable food companies.

    I've been doing this for 23 years now (I still run Food Assets) and not once, have I seen these get-rich-quick schemers handle a real food emergency correctly.

    There doesn't seem to be any qualifications required anymore in this industry. Anybody can promise / say anything (and most do), but very few can actually deliver what is needed.  


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