Everybody agrees, not only is the situation in Puerto Rico after the devastation of Hurricane Maria a natural disaster, but it’s a humanitarian crisis as well. The sign of how well a governmentfunctions is not how it does when everything is just ducky, it’s how it does when the chips are down, when its own citizens are hurting and need help immediately. And just like everything else TeamTrump, they’re fucking this up..
I’ve come to look at His Lowness as a kind of looking glass King Midas. Everything Trump touches turns to shit. And obviously the first thing he poked his grubby little finger into was the running ofthe base administration of the government. Rachel Maddow on MSNBC has been both very watchful of, and critical of the Trump administration response, especially from FEMA. People in Puerto Rico areliterally dying due to a pathetic response to a disaster they had a full week of warning was coming.
This seems to be the prevailing attitude in the Trump administration, especially FEMA in responding to this disaster. “Hey! Just cuz Puerto Rico got whacked by a hurricane, that doesn’t mean that”the right people” shouldn’t make a buck offa it, right?” And that is exactly what’s happening in the Puerto Rico response, with possibly deadly results.
According to an article published on Vox.com, almost 50% of federal disaster relief funds have been spent in contracts to companies under a “no bid” process, instead of the normalgovernmental contract process of “open bidding”. And it isn’t exactly working out swimmingly. One of the problems with no bid contracts is that there is less due deliberation into the wualificationsof the contractor, nor of the competitive value of the bid. They pick up a phone, and offer the job.
This has manifested itself most obviously in the case of Whitefish Energy, a small M ontana electric firm with a whopping two full time line workers. They somehow managed toteat lock their way to a no bid $300 million contract to help restore electricity to Puerto Rico. Forget the fact that the pay per lineman was double the industry average, and that they inflated mealexpenses as well. How are two Whitefish linemen managing to restore power to the island of Puerto Rico? They’re not, they have help from an army of sub contractors that Whitefish brought in fromtheir “on call” list, people who have in no way vetted by FEMA, or had their qualifications checked. How did they get the contract? Well, the fact that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is a local boy,and his kid worked for Whitefish one summer probably helped. This has manifested itself in a predictable manner. One of the critical “main lines” that Whitefish repaired has failed twice in the lastweek, plunging thousands of Puerto Ricans back into darkness shortly after they got power again. Puerto Rio has canceled their contract, but guess what? According to the terms of their no bidcontract, even though the contract was calcelled, they have to receive 30 days notice to pull out, so they’re still being paid to fuck things up in Puerto Rico until the end of November.
Look, there is nothing inherently corrupt or evil about no bid contracts, especially in disaster situations. One of the problems with open bid contracts is time. An open bid is posted. Then there areseveral weeks for contractors to submit bids, followed by more weeks of consideration before a winner is awarded the contract. Obviously you can’t do this when people have no roofs or electricity,and they’re breaking into EPA Superfund sites for drinking water. Thus, no bid contracts are used to expedite the response.
But FEMA and other agencies are not unprepared for this. Each agency has an “approved” list of vendors and contractors, most of whom have already done work for the agency, and have a work history,ready to call. The problem is that when you have three catastrophic storms, Irma, Harvey, and Maria strike the US in less than 3 weeks, you exhaust your list, and have to go fishing. This can lead toincompetence and corruption, in the case of Puerto Rico, with potentially deadly consequences.
The real problem is not with incompetence in the contractors, it’s with incompetence in the Trump administration. Whitefish Energy was actually on FEMA’s list, they had done some minor work for theagency, mostly power restoration in the west after wildfires. But, according to reporting done at the time the scandal broke, Whitefish had a spotty, problematic history with FEMA, with complaintsabout the speed and quality of their work.In fact, they were not on FEMA’s “approved” list of primary contractors, they were farther down the page in the backup emergency list.
This is where the real incompetence comes in. Granted, in a situation like this, there is no time for open contracts, but Whitefish was already known as problematic on FEMA’s ownpaperwork, and yet apparently nobody bothered to read their history without contacting them. who knows, maybe Ryan Zinke’s assurances that Whitefish were a bunch of stand up guys carried moreweight than FEMA’s own negative experience with the firm. Add in the fact that it certainly seems that The Tangerine Tantrum was blissfully unaware that Puerto Ricans were actually card carryingUnited States citizens, and the conditions were ripe for a careless, lacksadaisical respone to the disaster. “Fuck ’em, they don’t have Senators, and they can’t vote for President,” seems to havebeen, and quite possibly still is the operating principle. After all, why send down a 1,000 bed hospital ship, and then don’t bother to dock tha goddamn thing for three weeks so people can get on it.Welcome to Trumpmenistan folks.
A note from the author: If you enjoyed this article, you might also enjoy my e-book, President Evil: A common man looks at Trump and the 2016 GOP primaries.