Congress is starting to look into the shady Puerto Rico infrastructure deal

Why did the Trump administration spend $300 million on a two-person company? Congress wants answers

By Matthew Rozsa

Staff Writer

Published October 25, 2017 3:03PM (EDT)

 (AP Photo/Carlos Giusti)
(AP Photo/Carlos Giusti)

Congress wants to look into the Trump administration's questionable $300 million deal with a two-person company tied to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to rebuild Puerto Rico's infrastructure.

In a bipartisan request, the House Oversight Committee asked Department of Homeland Security and FEMA to provide all documents or communications "relating to any steps taken to prepare Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands for Hurricanes Irma and Maria, as well as logistical challenges, distribution of commodities, or power restoration following the storm." The request did not specify a timeline.

"My understanding is that we have not received a single document to date in response to this request," a spokesperson for the committee told Salon.

There has been considerable controversy over the fact that the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority awarded a $300 million contract to rebuild the commonwealth's infrastructure to Whitefish Energy. The company only had two full-time employees at the time that Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico and was only founded in 2015.

It is also located in Whitefish, Montana — the home of Zinke, whose son worked a summer job at one of the construction sites owned by Whitefish Energy Chief Executive Andy Techmanski.

"I think we don't know enough yet to know about an ethics violation, but the administration should be worried about the optics of this," Jordan Libowitz, communications director for Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, told Salon. "Because there are certainly quite a few people asking questions about the nature of the contract, which really isn't what the administration would want to be seeing."

He added, "When a tiny company from a small town in Montana that just so happens to be the same home town as the secretary of the interior happens to get a massive $300 million contract in Puerto Rico, you have to ask questions about what the process was in the case."

Ethics watchdogs aren't the only ones concerned about the Whitefish contract. San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz outright called for the contract to be terminated.

"The contract should be voided right away, and a proper process which is clear, transparent, legal, moral and ethical should take place," Cruz told Yahoo News, describing the contract as "alarming."

Cruz's concern was shared by Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, who has been one of Trump's most vocal Republican critics in the Senate.

"We’re trying to find out a little bit more . . . we need to figure out what’s going with it here," Murkowski said, according to NBC News.

By Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a staff writer at Salon. He received a Master's Degree in History from Rutgers-Newark in 2012 and was awarded a science journalism fellowship from the Metcalf Institute in 2022.

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House Oversight Committee Puerto Rico Ryan Zinke