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FEMA awarded a huge hurricane aid contract to a one-person company. It didn't end well.

A resident wades through flood water days after Hurricane Maria made landfall, on Sept. 22 in Loiza, Puerto Rico. The Federal Emergency Management Agency awarded a $156 million disaster relief contract to an Atlanta entrepreneur with no experience with tasks of that scale and a history of failure. The contract was later terminated. (Alex Wroblewski/Getty Images)

After Hurricane Maria destroyed much of Puerto Rico, the Federal Emergency Management Agency awarded a $156 million disaster relief contract to an Atlanta entrepreneur with no experience with tasks of that scale and a history of failure, according to the New York Times.

The contract required Tiffany Brown, owner of a company called Tribute Contracting, LLC, to deliver 30 million meals between Oct. 3 and Oct. 23.

It turned out to be a “logistical nightmare” for FEMA.

What happened?

Brown, the only employee of Tribute, hired a wedding caterer in Atlanta and a nonprofit in Texas to prepare the meals.

That wasn’t nearly enough help, however, and Tribute had delivered only 50,000 meals by the time the company was supposed to have delivered 18.5 million — and the ones that were delivered were delivered incorrectly.

The meals were supposed to be packaged with heating pouches, but Tribute delivered them separately.

FEMA emailed Brown on Oct. 19 to tell her the contract had been terminated.

“Do not ship another meal,” Carolyn Ward, the contracting officer, wrote. “Your contract is terminated. This is a logistical nightmare.”

FEMA maintains that distribution was not impacted by the terminated contract, even though millions of ordered meals were not delivered to those in need.

A sketchy history

Tribute had handled numerous government contracts in the past — but also had many of them canceled for failing to meet the terms.

  • Four federal prison system contracts were cancelled after Tribute failed to deliver food to correctional institutions.
  • Another contract, with the Government Publishing Office, was terminated after 3,000 tote bags were incorrectly produced.
  • Tribute submitted false shipping documents and “subcontracted the predominant production function on two contracts without proper authorization” for the GPO.
  • Tribute was routinely late on deliveries, according to a GPO report.
  • The GPO banned Tribute from being awarded any contracts over $35,000 until January 2019, but that only applied to the GPO, not other agencies.

Who is Tiffany Brown, and how did she get a contract?

Brown described herself as a broker who can procure subcontracted work to get jobs done, and keep a cut of the money.

She is a self-published author whose Twitter bio says she is “A Diva, Mogul, Author, Idealist with scars to prove it.”

Democrats on the House Oversight Committee worry that Tribute got the contract because FEMA did not line up potential contractors leading up to the hurricane, so it was forced to rush when the time came to award contracts.

What will happen now?

Brown is appealing the termination of her contract, seeking a $70 million settlement.

She claims that she was never told the meals needed to be packaged with the heating pouches, and that she would have delivered all 30 million meals by Nov. 7, despite only having 50,000 delivered by Oct. 19.

She also said her subcontractors are threatening to sue her because they have prepared meals that are sitting in warehouses, and have not received payment.

But even Brown admitted that giving her the contract was a mistake.

“They probably should have gone with someone else, but I’m assuming they did not because this was the third hurricane,” Brown said. “They were trying to fill the orders the best they could.”

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