An air crew from Customs and Border Protection Air and Marine Operations delivers humanitarian aid in Ponce, Puerto Rico, Oc

An air crew from Customs and Border Protection Air and Marine Operations delivers humanitarian aid in Ponce, Puerto Rico, Oc Jetta Disco

FEMA Meals Contractor’s Proposal Was Rife With False Claims, Senators Allege

Feds canceled the small Atlanta firm’s $156 million deal to feed hurricane victims in Puerto Rico after the company failed to meet requirements.

Tribute Contracting, the Atlanta-based boutique consultancy whose $156 million contract to provide meals to hurricane victims in Puerto Rico was canceled, had submitted a work proposal marred by plagiarism and false claims of capabilities, according to three Democratic senators.

As part of a probe of the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s handling of the failed contract, Sens. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo.; Gary Peters, D-Mich., and Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., on Thursday wrote to FEMA Administrator Brock Long with examples of language that Tribute owner Tiffany Brown had allegedly lifted from other contactor websites.

“The overwhelming majority of Tribute’s 9-page proposal appears to be plagiarized from several sources readily available on the Internet,” the senators found.

In addition, logistics company C.H. Robinson, which Brown claimed was an active partner with her firm, told the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee that it was contacted by Tribute for the first time only after FEMA had awarded the contract, the senators said.

Tribute was able to deliver only 50,000 of the promised 30 million emergency meals before the deal was ended.

“This contract appears to be further evidence of systemic weaknesses in FEMA’s contracting practices,” the senators wrote. “We are concerned that without proper policies and procedures in place to evaluate prospective contractors’ capacity, we will continue to see disaster relief contracts fail unnecessarily, at the expense of both taxpayers and hurricane survivors.”

When the story broke earlier this month, federal procurement records emerged showing that the government had previously canceled contracts with Tribute, and an inspector general report had found that Tribute “altered and submitted a false shipping document” in a previous contract, the senators noted.

Before making an award to a prospective contractor, a contracting officer must make “an affirmative determination of responsibility,” which includes finding the contractor has “a satisfactory performance record,” they said. “It is not clear how FEMA made such a determination given Tribute’s history.”

The senators said they were troubled that FEMA “is not taking appropriate steps to evaluate vendors’ qualifications before awarding contracts to provide critical disaster relief supplies.”

They asked for answers, by March 15, to such questions as how the agency evaluated the specific claims in Tribute’s proposal and the current status of the canceled contract.

Brown did not respond to a telephone message left on Friday. She has filed an appeal of the termination of her contract.

Asked on Friday for a response, FEMA spokesman Will Booher told Government Executive in an email, “FEMA received the letter from the HSGAC yesterday and is currently reviewing its contents. FEMA continues to work closely with Congress and will provide a response directly back to the committee."

FEMA has stressed that it has continued to provide millions of meals and bottled water to ailing Puerto Ricans using multiple vendors.

A House Oversight and Government Reform Committee probe is also underway.