WASHINGTON — After pressure from U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill in April to have more prepositioned contracts in place to deal with natural disasters, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recently began the solicitation process for prepositioned contractors who can deliver plastic sheeting used for temporary roofing protection often needed in the wake of a hurricane.
These actions follow a Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Minority staff report released in April that detailed significant failures by FEMA in the contracting process for emergency sheeting during the devastating 2017 hurricane season, including inadequate use of prepositioned contracts. These kinds of contracts allow FEMA to maximize competition, conduct market research, and thoroughly evaluate prospective contractors’ qualifications and proposals. Without prepositioned contracts, FEMA’s bid process often does not ensure adequate competition; of the seven solicitations FEMA issued for plastic sheeting in the wake of the 2017 hurricanes, four were open for less than 24 hours, and one gave vendors less than two hours to respond. In addition, FEMA made awards to unqualified contractors who failed to deliver, as in the case of Bronze Starr, LLC—a two-person company formed less than two months before bidding on contracts, whom FEMA awarded a $13.96 million contract for plastic sheeting that was ultimately cancelled. Among other contracting failures, the McCaskill-requested report found that FEMA had no prepositioned contracts for emergency plastic sheeting in advance of last year’s hurricane season.
“Emergency response is not an easy task, but having prepositioned contracts can go a long way when it comes to getting the necessary aid to survivors and cutting down on waste, fraud, and abuse of taxpayer dollars,” said McCaskill, the top-ranking Democrat on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, which maintains oversight for FEMA. “I’m happy to see the Administration taking these steps I suggested for better emergency preparedness and use of taxpayer dollars, and I’ll be watching to see that the they follow through with these contracts in the unfortunate event of a natural disaster.”
On May 25, 2018, FEMA posted a “presolicitation” online indicating that it planned to enter into prepositioned contracts for emergency plastic sheeting in the upcoming months and asking for feedback and questions from prospective vendors. On June 13, 2018, the agency posted answers to questions received, which included FEMA’s projected timeframe for issuing an actual contract solicitation—between July and September 2018.
At a Committee hearing in April, McCaskill pressed FEMA Administrator Brock Long on the lack of prepositioned contracts for the 2017 hurricane season: “Obviously you know you are going to need sheeting and tarps in any kind of hurricane disaster . . . Clearly [FEMA] did not have enough prepositioned contracts to deal with the kinds of challenges that you were facing.” In response, Administrator Long agreed: “Listen, I agree. The bottom line is we can always get better on the prepositioned contracting.”
McCaskill has made contracting oversight a priority in the aftermath of the devastating 2017 hurricane season. Earlier this year, she revealed that a $156 million cancelled contract for providing 30 million meals to Puerto Rico included misrepresentations and apparently extensive plagiarism. McCaskill has also repeatedly called for answers over the Whitefish contract in Puerto Rico, writing to FEMA asking for additional information on the agency’s role in the contract. McCaskill previously joined Committee Chairman Ron Johnson of Wisconsin to call for an investigation from the Department of Homeland Security Inspector General into the Whitefish contract. She also wrote to the Army Corps of Engineers about the nearly $1 billion it was awarding to contractors for repairing the electrical grid in Puerto Rico.