Democrats Demand Subpoena for Trump Administration’s Hurricane Response

Feb 6, 2018
Press Release

Democrats Demand Subpoena for

Trump Administration’s Hurricane Response


New Documents Show Administration “Inexplicably” Awarded

$156 Million Contract to One-Person Company to Deliver 30 Million Meals—

Company Delivered Only 50,000 Before Being Terminated,

Leading to Massive Food Shortage for Weeks After Hurricane


Washington, D.C. (Feb. 6, 2018)—Today, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, the Ranking Member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, and Committee Member Stacey E. Plaskett sent a letter requesting that Chairman Trey Gowdy issue a subpoena to compel the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to produce documents it has withheld for more than three months relating to its failure to provide tens of millions of emergency meals to U.S. citizens who were victims of the hurricanes in Puerto Rico.

President Donald Trump rated his Administration’s response to the hurricanes in Puerto Rico as a “10” out of 10 and disparaged those who questioned his Administration’s response as “ingrates” who “want everything done for them.” 

In contrast, new documents obtained by the Democrats directly contradict his claims.  On October 3, 2017, FEMA officials awarded a contract valued at $155,982,000 to Tribute Contracting LLC to deliver 30 million emergency meals.  Twenty days later, FEMA officials terminated the contract “for cause” after having accepted only 50,000 meals—more than 29 million meals short of their goal.

“According to these documents, 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 wrote. 

Their letter explained that the Committee has been unable to determine the full scope of the effects of FEMA’s failure to deliver millions of emergency meals because FEMA has not produced key documents and communications to the Committee over the past three months.  However, there are significant indications that FEMA’s failure directly affected millions of hurricane victims.

By October 11, 2017, FEMA officials reportedly admitted facing massive food shortages of millions of meals per day:  “Federal officials privately admit there is a massive shortage of meals in Puerto Rico three weeks after Hurricane Maria devastated the island,” and FEMA officials reported providing only 200,000 meals a day to more than 2 million people—“a daily shortfall of between 1.8m and 5.8m meals.”  This report quoted one FEMA official as stating, “We are 1.8 million meals short. … That is why we need the urgency.  And it’s not going away.  We’re doing this much today, but it has to be sustained over several months.”  According to this report, “The scale of the food crisis dwarfs the more widely publicized challenges of restoring power and communications,” but FEMA “provides no details on food deliveries, keeping its public statements to the most general terms.”

“It is difficult to fathom how FEMA could have believed that this tiny company had the capacity to perform this $156 million contract,” Cummings and Plaskett wrote.  “FEMA’s decision is even more incomprehensible given the company’s inability to fulfill previous government contracts that were only a fraction of the size.” 

According to the documents, both the Federal Prison System and the Government Publishing Office cancelled contracts with Tribute over the past five years valued at less than $100,000.  Even more troubling, the Government Publishing Office determined in 2016 that Tribute would be ineligible for contracts worth more than $30,000 through January 2019, warning:  “Agencies shall not solicit offers from, award contracts to renew, place new orders with, or otherwise extend the duration of current contracts, or consent to subcontracts in excess of $ 30,000 (other than commercially available off-the-shelf items (COTS)), with these contractors unless the agency head (or designee) determines in writing there is a compelling reason to do so.”

“It is unclear why FEMA or any agency would have proceeded with a contract worth $156 million in light of this company’s poor contracting history and these explicit warnings,” Cummings and Plaskett wrote.  “It is also unclear whether FEMA was unaware of these previous problems or simply disregarded them in awarding the contract to Tribute.   All of this information on Tribute’s previous contracts is publicly available.”

They pointed out that in 2005, Republican Tom Davis, who led the House Select Committee Hurricane Katrina, issued a hard-hitting report on the Bush Administration’s similarly deficient response to Hurricane Katrina, including the key conclusion:  “Finding:  The failure at all levels to enter into advance contracts led to chaos and the potential for waste and fraud as acquisitions were made in haste.”

“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.  Food is one of the most basic necessities for victims of natural disasters.  This need is completely foreseeable—and in fact it was foreseen,” Cummings and Plaskett wrote.

Click here to read today’s letter.   

115th Congress