Contracting–What Were They Thinking Edition

One of the unfortunate things about the daily tweet-storms and other indignities coming nonstop from the White House is that they inevitably distract us from the multiple reports of more long-term, ongoing damage being done by this Administration.

Case in point: Puerto Rico, where last week’s explosion at a power plant has once again deprived those who had actually gotten their power back of electricity.

For that matter, Trump has shown far less concern for the inhabitants of Puerto Rico than he has for the sensibilities of aides who are having a “bad time right now” because word of their wife-beating emerged. (Of course, people in Puerto Rico are brown…) His appointees at FEMA have made “Heck of a job, Brownie” of  Katrina infamy look almost competent by contrast.

First, there was the award of a 300 million-dollar contract to a two-man firm (“coincidentally” from Ryan Zinke’s home town) to restore power on the island. That generated enough blowback that it was terminated, but not before the entire fiasco further delayed efforts to return Puerto Rico to a semblance of normalcy.

Now, we learn that this is who got a $156 million Federal Emergency Management Agency contract to deliver 30 million meals in a matter of weeks:

[Tiffany] Brown, who is adept at navigating the federal contracting system, hired a wedding caterer in Atlanta with a staff of 11 to freeze-dry wild mushrooms and rice, chicken and rice, and vegetable soup. She found a nonprofit in Texas that had shipped food aid overseas and domestically, including to a Houston food bank after Hurricane Harvey.

By the time 18.5 million meals were due, Tribute had delivered only 50,000. And FEMA inspectors discovered a problem: The food had been packaged separately from the pouches used to heat them. FEMA’s solicitation required “self-heating meals.”

“Do not ship another meal. Your contract is terminated,” Carolyn Ward, the FEMA contracting officer who handled Tribute’s agreement, wrote to Ms. Brown in an email dated Oct. 19 that Ms. Brown provided to The New York Times. “This is a logistical nightmare.”

I am prepared to give FEMA a very dubious benefit of the doubt; unlike the power contract, I doubt this one was the result of “wheeling and dealing” or quid pro quo. My guess would be monumental incompetence–which has sort of become a hallmark of this administration. Whether corruption or incompetence is the explanation, however, Puerto Rican’s aren’t eating.

As a post to Daily Kos put it,

FEMA can’t claim to be an innocent victim here—Brown had a history of canceled government contracts for failing to deliver food to the prison system and for getting an order with the Government Publishing Office wrong. She also had no experience in this kind of disaster relief work. FEMA hired her despite having absolutely no reason to believe she could deliver what she was promising.

In more ordinary times, with more conventional Presidents–i.e., adults–the continued suffering of people in Puerto Rico would have been front-page news for months. With this Administration, however, the hits just keep on coming: ICE agents breaking up law-abiding families, Presidential aides accused of domestic violence, budget proposals to slash the already-inadequate safety net in order to fund the recent tax giveaway to the rich, an infrastructure “plan” that is equal parts fantasy and privatization…

Speaking of “thoughts and prayers,” I pray we aren’t all too emotionally fatigued by the daily doings of the Kakistocracy to vote in November….


  1. Perhaps we have gotten so little news coverage of the response to the crisis in Puerto Rico because of the ongoing ciaos emanating from the White House. Better ratings and all. Maybe there has been a giant response from religious NGOs, but I have heard little about aide coming from the churches on the mainland. Or, it may be that way too many churches are focused on politics to bother with helping the poor and downtrodden. Whatever it is, we are proving to be a greedy, power hungry, callus people.

  2. With no help from FEMA, an Iraq war vet Army officer from Puerto Rico with whom I work in DC has installed full solar power atop his family’s house in PR. He’s just obtained net metering meter, and is shopping for battery to power over dark periods. He’s also shopping for electric car, completely abandoning fossil fuels for car and home. He says PR government is resisting solar… pushing commitment to fossil fuel.

  3. There are two systems within the Federal Government that desparately need an overhaul. Purchase and contracting is one. It can take up to a year to compete a fairly simple contract. The second is personnel management. I had my HR specialist chart the process for hiring and she found 58 steps from recognizing the need for a position to hiring.

    There are better and easier ways to accomplish these critical functions. The need for speed, however, should not preclude the ability to screen out the charlatans.

  4. It seems Trump is an agent for Putin in spreading disinformation, sewing discord between Americans and disbelief in our democratic institutions, and I think Puerto Rico was a good venue for Trump to try out his racist wings to placate his base, to the delight of Putin, since this creates ever more division but without particular political consequence since Puerto Rico has no voting senators or congress people to stand up for them in Washington. We are told that, like the residents of Guam, they are citizens, but without representation they are only quasi-citizens and thus vulnerable to attack by stateside politicians.

    The government of Puerto Rico is hopelessly in debt and Maria didn’t help, but perhaps Puerto Rico could get the attention of Trump and other bigoted politicians in Washington if they announced that they were defaulting on their debt to American bondholders, renouncing their American citizenship, and associating politically as an overseas territory of France or some other country with sane leadership and a presence in the Caribbean. Trump in the face of such a move and as a self-professed money man might well consider doing something for Puerto Rico when bondholders come knocking on his door.

    A personal note – I first visited Puerto Rico in 1945 shortly after WW II ended and after a couple of earlier stints in the South Pacific. My next visit was on a “The Nation” cruise in 2011. San Juan has changed very considerably during the interim and is now a tourist trap, but I found Puerto Ricans to be the same friendly and seemingly happy people they were 66 years earlier. I can only imagine how those people are faring now after Maria and living under the brutal treatment of a racist president. Final thought on Russian conspiracy in this connection > Did Putin in his
    attempts to sew racial division via a blackmailed Trump include Puerto Rico to his targeted states for political interference?

  5. “We have not outsourced the retirement plan, we only have obtain a different record keeper. Our previous recordkeeper was Conduent. INPRS is still responsible for its retirement plans.”

    Above is a portion of the response I received from Indiana Public Retirement System (INPRS) in answer to my questioning receipt of two passcodes to access my retirement account (an error on their part or the new contractor, they don’t know the answer). I had earlier messaged my Democratic State Representative Dan Forestal asking why our retirement system had been privatized (or outsourced); he knew nothing about it and his Chief Legislative Officer has no idea what privatizing or outsourcing means because I received basically the same response as you can see above. A private company performing government work IS outsourcing or privatizing even when they call it contracting. Yes, yes, yes; I’m sure you are all tired of me harping on this issue (and others) repeatedly but the new contractor, State Street Retiree Services, now has full access and control to our INPRS retirement funds, that means our money! Being required to re-register with the new contractor mid-January also gave this private contractor full access to our private information – no need to hack as a private contractor isn’t a government agency and is much easier to obtain our information. The public employee retirees includes all retired Indiana Public Employees, Teachers, Judges, Police Officers, Firefighters, Excise, Gaming and Conservation Officers, Prosecutors and Legislators.

    This is a local issue and I have admitted to being forced to become a conspiracy theorist but – CONTRACTING – WHAT WERE THEY THINKING EDITION is going on at local levels as well as federal. The deliberate distractions are covering a multitude of ongoing sins perpetrated by the Republican party. All the more reason to do what we can to “get out the vote” in Primaries and general elections this year. I have stated before that Trump has no interest in our Puerto Rican citizens as they are Hispanics; the months of ignoring their plight is a deliberate INaction on his part and the part of the entire Congress and Senate.

  6. Gerald,

    Re: “A personal note – I first visited Puerto Rico in 1945 shortly after WW II ended and after a couple of earlier stints in the South Pacific.”

    If I interpret this correctly, I honor your service. I am reading and mesmerized by E.B. Sledge’s “With the Old Breed”

  7. Since it is obvious our Elected Officials will not do nothing except offer “Thoughts and Prayers” students are organizing to actually do something. On Friday, April 20th, the 19th anniversary of the Columbine shooting we propose a National High School WALK-OUT. @ 10am walk out of school, wear orange,to protest.

    On Friday, April 20th we want students to attend school and then promptly WALK-OUT at 10:00 am. Sit outside your schools and peacefully protest. Make some noise. Voice your thoughts. “We are students, we are victims, we are change.”

    I suspect here in Indiana the politicians and schools will do what they can to suppress any overt dissent.

    I saw a post on face book, where a person, wrote a note and took a photo of a check. The note said since you and your colleagues seem to feel this is solution to mass shootings, please accept this contribution. The check is made out a congressman and the amount is “Thoughts and Prayers” in the memo section it says Campaign Contribution.

    Perhaps one of the grand daddy’s of privatization and contracting was Iraq War 2. Rand Paul claimed that Dick Cheney’s advocacy of the invasion of Iraq was partly nefarious and predicated on corporate self-interest, not national security priorities.

    “When the Iraq War started, Halliburton got a billion-dollar no-bid contract. Some of the stuff has been so shoddy and so sloppy that our soldiers are over there dying in the shower from electrocution. I mean, it shouldn’t be sloppy work; it shouldn’t be bad procurement process. But it really shouldn’t be that these people are so powerful that they direct even policy.”

    Back when I was growing up in Chicago, patronage and crony-capitalism went hand in glove. We had two good newspapers that would expose these dealings from time to time, and once in a while a state’s attorney (Public Prosecutor) or the feds would prosecute.

  8. Trump promised to “drain the swamp” of all the public sector folks who are screw-ups.

    “The market-driven private sector is superior to the bureaucrats.”

    This is the entire premise behind the Koch brothers spending decades and billions in shaping the new republican party. Think tanks across college campuses all spewing free-market ideas into young minds via donated money and control.

    More competition instead of cooperation. Greed and crony capitalism rule. Public money flows into the free markets to ignite “economic development” despite the lack of demand from consumers who barely get by paycheck to paycheck.

    The Koch’s ultimate goal is to eliminate the public sector completely. They want to privatize everything in the public world and had lots of help by Milton Friedman and his Chicago boys. In their ideal world, there will be no voting for candidates. Your vote will be with the choice you make to spend your dollar.

    Puerta Rico was set-up to fail. “Too many poor brown people on a beautiful island.”

    The lack of urgency shows the cards Trump and GOP are holding…

  9. I am again made aware of my incredulity at people who believe that because both parties accept campaign donations from corporations and wealthy individuals they are equal.

    It seems obvious to me that we don’t know of those who don’t take campaign donations from wealthy sources because they don’t get elected. That particular problem in fact is caused not by political strategy at all but by our addiction to pervasive persuasive make more money regardless of the impact on others media. It has nothing to do with governance.

    Like virtually every institution we rely on in our exceedingly complex world government needs to be done by experts now just like science does.

    Propaganda funded by oligarchs has been successful in leading those of us with authoritarian personalities to mistrust all public institutions. That’s root cause of the dysfunction that fills these pages, not campaign funding. (Though campaign funding reform is an opportunity for democracy in America.)

    I used to joke that my stretch goal for the TrumPence debacle was only limited nuclear war in th first term but seriously, folks, the damage being done every day now is monsterous. I believe that it will take 2X the time time for good government to recover back to 2016 than it has taken for truly bad government to wreck our country.

    I’m open to any solution but until I hear better I am focused on the simplest of all strategies, all Ds in ‘18 and ‘20.

  10. When my son was in Pueto Rico, as one of the Journeyman linemen sent from NY, he told me tales of delayed deliveries, and food sitting in warehouses = electrical equipment that went unordered! (Puerto Rico has an Electrical Supplier that supports the entire Island chain, but not one order had been placed – it was all ‘FEMA’ and 300 million dollars to the PowerBoard in PR that got used for other things by the director of the Power Board!… yeah he was determined to live the good life on our bucks… he has people hunting him as I write… I am beginning to believe that there is nothing that can be ‘made right’ at this time – I see nothing but some bad news for all of us… Mother Earth will see to that. Puerto Rico and the Islands are witness against the idiots we placed in our government! I can tell you that – and Karma is a Mastiff Bitch – with BIG JAWS.

  11. I’m with you, Pete:

    “I’m open to any solution but until I hear better I am focused on the simplest of all strategies, all Democrats in 2018 and 2020.”

    Other successful solutions now abandoned:
    “Don’t Tread On Me”, “Aux Armes Citoyens!” and “I’m Mad as Hell!”

    The National High School Walk-Out at 10am on Friday, April 20th can’t hurt. At the very least it may awaken some young people. If memory serves, we didn’t do much in high schools on Fridays anyhow.

    But, will the NRA be on hand to distribute AR-15s?? Will parents keep their teenagers at home?

  12. By Golly, just LOOK at the flotsam and jetsam of inexperienced non-politico big-bucks phonies who were ushered in with the Failure-In-Chief and His Holiness.
    Then mourn the loss of professional dedicated public servants who have had to abandon ship or have been pushed overboard. No wonder the disarray, no wonder the in-fighting, no wonder the madness.
    Don’t you deplore the failure of this Congress? Are you planning to dismiss this Congress at the polls in November? Would you risk returning any seats to Republicans?

  13. This is but another example of the abject stupidity of this administration and also the same occurring on the local and state levels of very likely every state in the union. The examples of this are stacking up faster than we can keep track of them which leads me to conclude that beneath the surface there is administrative rot of all kinds that permeates government everywhere and that it is accumulating in a hyper drive fashion. The bitter irony of all this is that the people that support the orange dictator voted for him because of their perceptions of an incompetent and unresponsive governmental structure, spooled up by propaganda from apparently all sources foreign and domestic which is led to all of this becoming even worse than it likely was already. They obviously got their wish.

    The effort to bring relief to the citizens of Puerto Rico, the focus of today’s blog post by Sheila, is a classic example of this that gets nowhere near the visibility that it deserves given that people’s lives are at stake. The idea that you can bring people into government and put them in positions of responsibility when they have no, absolutely no, experience is patently nonsensical yet that’s exactly where we’re at thanks again to the orange dictator and his supporters.

    We are all experiencing waking up every day and seeing or hearing multiple times every day news of the most the most horrendous and moronic governmental performance that we’ve ever seen or read about which just seems to get worse and worse. The only bright spot is the Mueller probe which is clearly shown that the orange dictator has had a lot of Russian help in bringing us to where we are today which to put it mildly is overly chaotic.

    I guess my question is how long are we going to sit here and be the mere spectators of this incredibly abnormal situation we’re all faced with. It’s not going to get any better, instead it’s only going to get worse. As the orange dictator tries to clamp down on the release of information by the Federal government with the same being done at the state level by his ALEC driven counterparts, God only knows just how bad things are up to and including our ability to defend ourselves and the processes that would be utilized to do so.

    To say that the Republic is in danger is the most bizarre understatement that I can imagine. We are so under equipped to deal with this chaos that permeates everything and I guess my second question is how long are we going to be able to contend with this and come up with the way out of it before we’ll all lose our minds? It’s just too freaking nuts! What is happening now cannot ever become the New Normal and any attempt to make it so and for us to slack off in our resistance to it will be tantamount to societal suicide.

  14. Thank Heaven we will have a new majority in Congress for the second half of Trump/Pence first term.
    Voters will provide an opposition majority that will override vetoes. Together we will deflate the churlish Orange Ogre and his pomposity. Will we spank him?
    We will strengthen our hard-won social safety net, we will ignite no wars, we will recover sanity.
    We will overcome the gigantic inexcusable crazy assault inflicted on us by the Electoral College.
    Man, talk about a swamp needing to be drained!

  15. Tom,

    “I guess my question is how long are we going to sit here and be the mere spectators of this incredibly abnormal situation we’re all faced with. It’s not going to get any better, instead it’s only going to get worse.”

    “What is happening now cannot ever become the New Normal and any attempt to make it so and for us to slack off in our resistance to it will be tantamount to societal suicide.”

    We will continue our SOCIETAL SUICIDE as we have been doing ever since the election of Bill Clinton and his Triangulation Strategy. The November elections are giving many of us an excuse for not facing up to the task NOW when we STILL have an outside chance of success.

    Talking about “pipe dreams”……..a democratic revolution in the face of an authoritarian takeover when we are fearful to even speak-up, other than on social media, where most of us haven’t even identified ourselves.

  16. Marv Kramer – ” The November elections are giving many of us an excuse for not facing up to the task NOW when we STILL have an outside chance of success.”

    Marv – Please spell out exactly how we “can face up to the task NOW and have an outside chance for success”. That’s what some need, a roadmap.

  17. OMG,

    “Marv – Please spell out exactly how we “can face up to the task NOW and have an outside chance for success”. That’s what some need, a roadmap.”

    You’re absolutely right. It’s a ROADMAP of how we arrived at this point. That’s the advantage of the Hubble Space Telescope. It takes us back to the beginning so that we can understand our universe NOW.

    The same principle applies to Trump and the Republican Party. We must go back to the beginnings in ’34 and ’35 with the attempted fascist coup led by members of the Dupont family and according to the BBC, the Bush family. The advantage of the ROADMAP from that date FORWARD is that it will allow us to understand where along the road, for over 80 years, MISTAKES have been made that create strategic and tactical vulnerabilities within the Trump/Pence/Bannon REGIME that WE can take advantage of RIGHT NOW not later.

  18. OMG,

    We all understand the term: FAKE NEWS. We also need to understand a new term: FAKE SUCCESS. That’s what the ROADMAP can provide for ALL of us, Republicans and Democrats alike.

  19. OMG,

    The reality is that Donald Trump is unaware of more than 90% of the Roadmap he is counting on.

    Has Donald Trump also been following FAKE NEWS about the outcome of General George Custer at the Battle of the Little Bighorn? That’s a vital question from a military standpoint. Who knows with this guy?

  20. Marv – I liked the Hubble reference but I still don’t know what to do NEXT or NOW besides wait for the November elections and keep on wringing my hands until then. We MUST rescue our country, but HOW?
    I, too, am a product of the Great Depression, the New Deal, WWII and the rest.
    With this Congress, except for being certain how I’m going to vote in November, I’m paralyzed for NOW.

  21. OMG. That what I like about the all Ds strategy. It’s not sophisticated but it’s easy and a giant step forward. We’ve seen how much people like simple politics. I think the folks here are exceptional in terms of their ability and willingness to examine the mess under a microscope. That no longer determines success though.

    Simple does.

  22. OMG,

    “Marv – I liked the Hubble reference but I still don’t know what to do NEXT or NOW besides wait for the November elections and keep on wringing my hands until then. We MUST rescue our country, but HOW?”

    We have to organize into a “Counter-Third Force” [the Tea Party is a Third Force] outside the Democratic Party. That’s much easier said than done. Our opposition, at first, won’t be the Republican Party, it will be the NGO’s like the SPLC/ADL and the DLC members of the Democratic Party. They collect all the benefits but take little or none of the risks.

    I’ve been under personal attacks by a COMBINATION of those forces since 1970. Despite the attacks, I’ve been successful at TRACKING and TREATING the mutating fascist-like movement that Donald Trump now leads approximately 75% of the time.

    25 years ago in our essay: “Democracide: The Far Right’s Path to Power” which I was a co-author with my longtime companion, we quoted Hermann Rauschning the author of “The Rise of Nihilism” and also “The Redemption of Democracy”: “History shows that “freedom can be preserved in the face of a continuing process only up to a certain point. Beyond that point one inevitably becomes the slave of events. The logic of this process takes charge, upsetting all independent plans and calculations.”

    That’s why we can’t wait until November. By then we will be politically impotent if there is no earlier intervention.

    Nevertheless, like you, I’m certain I will be voting for the Democratic Party.

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