Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Puerto Rico Suspends $133M Post-Hurricane Housing Contract

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Puerto Rico Suspends $133M Post-Hurricane Housing Contract

Article excerpt

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico * Puerto Rico's Housing Department said Wednesday that it would suspend a $133 million deal with a U.S. company hired to repair homes damaged by Hurricane Maria because a review board found the contract had been improperly awarded.

The department's contractor review board published a ruling on Tuesday that New York-based Adjusters International received the contract, which was subsidized by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, though it did not meet several requirements.

Eric Perez-Ochoa, an attorney for Adjusters International, said in a statement that the company complied with all requirements and was studying the board's decision, adding that it was "deeply disappointed." He said that thousands of Puerto Ricans were enrolled in the home repairs program and that crews were conducting nearly 1,500 home inspections a day, with 700 Puerto Ricans helping out. He said the company offered a savings of more than $20 million compared with the other proposal.

"This decision puts that progress at risk and may cost Puerto Rico more money," he said.

A company vice president, Daniel Craig, had been nominated by President Donald Trump to the No. 2 position at FEMA but later withdrew from consideration. Craig, an ex-FEMA official under then-President George W. Bush, had faced a 2011 federal investigation that concluded he falsified government travel and timekeeping records findings he has rejected as being the result of a poor investigation. The 2011 report has not been publicly disclosed.

FEMA spokesman Daniel Llargues said the agency was not involved in any process tied to the contract and referred all questions to Puerto Rico's Housing Department.

Meanwhile, Puerto Rico Housing Secretary Fernando Gil said in a statement that his agency was evaluating other options to avoid interrupting home repairs more than five months after the Category 4 storm hit. He noted his agency had requested that Puerto Rico justice officials submit the contract to the review board even though they are not legally required to do so.

"Ensuring transparency in contract awards is of paramount importance," Gil said. "Our focus continues to be to help all families that require our assistance and ensure the reconstruction of Puerto Rico. …

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