Calls for subpoena after local contractor fumbles $156M contract for Puerto Rico food relief

WASHINGTON — After a local woman failed to fulfill her contract to deliver millions of meals as part of hurricane relief in Puerto Rico, members of Congress have requested the agency who granted the contract be subpoenaed in order to find out how this happened to begin with.

Back in October 2017, an Atlanta contractor was granted a $156 million contract by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to make 30 million meals for storm-ravaged Puerto Rico, but only delivered 50,000 meals. Twenty days later, FEMA canceled the contract with Tribute Consulting, LLC, the one-woman company owned and run by Tiffany Brown, citing "The contract is being terminated due to late delivery of the approved heater meals."

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READ | Local company wins $156M contract to make Puerto Rico 30 million meals. Only 50,000 are delivered.

On Tuesday, 11Alive asked FEMA what the agency did to vet Brown's company. They said they thoroughly researched Tribute Consulting, LLC before awarding her the contract, but 11Alive found out that it's not the first time Brown has failed to deliver on government contracts. Documents showed she flagged by one government agency as "ineligible" for contracts of more than $30,000 through January 2019.

11Alive reached out to Brown to try to get her side of the story, but knocks on her door went unanswered.

So, why did FEMA go ahead and award her the contract anyway? The agency told 11Alive she was only flagged within that specific government agency that listed her as ineligible, so legally, they couldn't deny her a contract because of that.

But in a scathing eight-page letter from Reps. Elijah Cummings and Stacey Plaskett to Federal oversight committee chairman Trey Gowdy, the representatives blast the agency, writing "It is difficult to fathom how FEMA could have believed that this tiny company had the capacity to perform this $156 million contract."

According to the Feb. 6 letter obtained by 11Alive, Brown apparently told representatives directly in a phone call that FEMA awarded her the contract because "I was able to submit a proposal to supply 30 million meals at the cheapest cost." Brown told staffers she stated she would work 24/7 to provide the meals and explained that FEMA "knew she could not independently finance the production and delivery of this many meals in such a short timeframe."

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The letter goes on to cite previous failures from Tribute in failing to fulfill other government contracts of less than $100,000, including contracts with the Federal Prison System and Government Publishing Office, in just the past five years. It also cites clear warning signs FEMA should have spotted.

Cummings and Plaskett ultimately ask Gowdy to subpoena FEMA in order to force the agency to release documents related to the failure to provide meals by Feb. 13. If not, committee members say the matter will be placed on the agenda for the next scheduled meeting.