- The Federal Emergency Management Agency issued a statement Friday morning saying it had no part in negotiating the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority's contract with Whitefish Energy, but the agency has "significant concerns" over how the agreement was reached.
- PREPA contracted with the small Montana-based company to repair its electrical system post-Hurricane Maria. But the $300 million deal has come under intense scrutiny this week, particularly over contract language that precludes government agencies from auditing the agreement.
- FEMA, the lead federal agency for hurricane response in Puerto Rico, now says it will work with the utility's legal team to obtain information about the contracting process. And federal lawmakers have entered the fray now, with Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) calling for hearings looking into the contract.
Two weeks ago, virtually no one had heard of Whitefish Energy, the small electric company tapped to help repair Puerto Rico's electric system. But as details emerged over the deal, and possible connections to the Trump administration were revealed, it all came to a head this week.
Now, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are investigating, FEMA is vowing to ensure funds are properly spent, and the mayor of San Juan wants the entire contract thrown out.
FEMA this morning released a statement saying it had no part in negotiating the deal, had yet to release any federal funds to Puerto Rico for the Whitefish contract and would scrutinize the arrangement before it did.
"Based on initial review and information from PREPA, FEMA has significant concerns with how PREPA procured this contract and has not confirmed whether the contract prices are reasonable," the agency said in its statement. "FEMA is presently engaged with PREPA and its legal council to obtain information about the contract and contracting process, including how the contract was procured and how PREPA determined the contract prices were reasonable."
Caribbean Business reported on the contract last week, writing that Whitefish was "selected by PREPA before Maria hit on Sept. 20." But the terms of the Whitefish agreement went largely unnoticed until Thursday, when journalist Ken Klippenstein spotlighted the document on Twitter.
Klippenstein noted the contract includes an employee per-diem in excess of $400 for accommodations and food as well as a passage ensuring that, "In no event shall [government bodies] have the right to audit or review the cost and profit elements."
The contract, signed by PREPA Executive Director Ricardo Rodriguez and Whitefish Energy Holding CEO Andy Techmanski, also specified that Puerto Rico can not make a claim against Whitefish for work delays or completion.
Several lawmakers have asked for more information on the deal. According to the Washington Examiner, Oregon Republican Rep. Greg Walden is leading a bipartisan group of in demanding more information from Whitefish. Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT) has reportedly asked Rodriguez to provide documents to show how Whitefish landed the contract.
The mayor of San Juan, Carmen Yulin Cruz, on Twitter suggested that the contract should be voided, sparking an online argument with the company, in which Whitefish threatened to pull its workers out of the island. The company apologized Thursday in a separate tweet.
Though Whitefish's contract with Puerto Rico has spiraled into a controversy, the company says its contractors are working in the field to repair the electric system. On Twitter the company has been posting updates in both English and Spanish, and said this morning it was working to remove old transmission towers, lay foundations and bring in parts for new towers. It also energized at least one line.