clear
Thursday November 23rd, 2017 6:20AM

Congressional committees probe Puerto Rico contract award

By The Associated Press
Related Articles
  Contact Editor

WASHINGTON (AP) — Multiple congressional committees are investigating a $300 million contract awarded to a small Montana company in the hometown of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke that was tapped to help restore Puerto Rico's damaged power grid.

The Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority awarded the contract to tiny Whitefish Energy Holdings to restore transmission and distribution lines damaged or destroyed during Hurricane Maria. The 2-year-old company had just two full-time employees when the storm hit last month.

In the House, leaders of the Natural Resources and Energy and Commerce committees sent letters Thursday seeking documents about the contract, saying circumstances surrounding the award raise troubling questions.

Meanwhile, Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, vowed to hold a hearing on the issue. Two Democrats, Sens. Maria Cantwell of Washington state and Ron Wyden of Oregon, formally requested an investigation by the Government Accountability Office.

Cantwell and Wyden questioned whether the contract cost was inflated, especially since work crews provided under mutual-aid agreements from other public utilities were available but not used.

The lawmakers also complained about the "opaque and limited nature" of the bidding process conducted by the Puerto Rico authority and "contemporaneous communications" between Whitefish officials and senior members of the Trump administration, including Zinke. Cantwell is senior Democrat on the Senate Energy panel, while Wyden is top Democrat on Senate Finance.

The Interior Department has denied that Zinke, a former Montana congressman, played any role in the contract award.

Zinke knows Whitefish CEO Andy Techmanski "because they both live in a small town where everyone knows everyone," a spokeswoman said. Zinke's son had a summer job at a Whitefish construction site.

Bipartisan leaders of the House Energy and Commerce panel said questions raised about Whitefish's involvement in recovery efforts make it "important to develop a clear understanding of the facts."

The committee requested a series of documents from Whitefish and asked for a briefing for committee staff by Nov. 9. The letter is signed by Chairman Greg Walden, R-Ore., senior Democrat Frank Pallone of New Jersey and three other committee members.

Separately, House Natural Resources Chairman Rob Bishop of Utah and Arkansas Rep. Bruce Westerman, chairman of an oversight and investigations subcommittee, asked the Puerto Rican power authority for all documents related to the Whitefish contract.

While speed is necessary in an emergency such as Hurricane Maria, "transparency and accountability in government contracting" must never be compromised, they wrote in a letter to Ricardo Ramos, the power authority's executive director.

Ramos said in a radio interview Thursday that Whitefish is doing an "excellent job," adding that he has no intention of canceling the contract. "There's been nothing illegal here," Ramos said.

Nicole Daigle, a spokeswoman for Murkowski, said the Whitefish deal "is a very large contract for a relatively new and small company, and Sen. Murkowski intends to find out more about it."

The committee expects to explore the contract at a hearing next month on hurricane recovery efforts and reconstruction of the electric grids in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, Daigle said.

Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., said he did not know Whitefish or its CEO, Techmanski.

"The first I heard of the Whitefish Energy contract was through the news. I was surprised that such a small company from Montana got the contract," Daines said.

__

Associated Press writer Danica Coto in San Juan, Puerto Rico, contributed to this report.

  • Associated Categories: Associated Press (AP), AP Online Headlines - Washington, AP Online Congress News, AP Business, AP Business - Corporate News, AP Business - Industries, AP Business - Utilities
© Copyright 2017 AccessWDUN.com
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.
Girardi fired as Yankees manager, leaving with 'heavy heart'
Joe Girardi fired as Yankees manager, leaving with 'heavy heart' after 10 seasons
5:24PM ( 11 minutes ago )
NY woman missing since '75 found alive in Massachusetts
Authorities say a New York woman who disappeared 42 years ago has been found suffering from dementia and living in Massachusetts
5:21PM ( 14 minutes ago )
Harvey Weinstein sues former company over emails, records
Harvey Weinstein sues former company over access to his emails and personnel file
5:18PM ( 18 minutes ago )
Associated Press (AP)
Democrats condemn proposed fee hikes at national parks
Democratic senators are harshly criticizing a National Park Service plan to impose steep increases in entrance fees at 17 of its most popular parks, including the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, Yellowstone and Zion
5:04PM ( 31 minutes ago )
Trump declares US opioid emergency but pledges no new money
Trump declares opioid abuse a national public health emergency, pledges the U.S. can overcome scourage of drug addiction
5:04PM ( 32 minutes ago )
The Latest: First member of Catalonia govt cabinet resigns
Catalonia's regional chief for business says he is resigning because efforts to find a negotiated solution to the secession-minded region's conflict with Spain have failed
5:00PM ( 35 minutes ago )
AP Online Headlines - Washington
House backs $4T budget, faces challenges on Trump tax plan
Republicans powered a $4 trillion budget through the House on Thursday, but only by a razor-thin margin that underscored the difficulties ahead on delivering President Donald Trump's promise to cuts taxes
3:59PM ( 1 hour ago )
Trump declares opioids a public health emergency
Trump directs health department to declare the opioid crisis a nationwide public health emergency
3:56PM ( 1 hour ago )
The Latest: White House praises GOP budget passage by House
The White House is praising the House passage of a budget as a necessary step for a tax overhaul
3:53PM ( 1 hour ago )
AP Online Congress News
The Latest: Harvey Weinstein sues former company
The Latest: Harvey Weinstein sues former company for access to emails and personnel file
4:56PM ( 40 minutes ago )
American and Southwest signal rising airline prices ahead
Third-quarter profit rises at Southwest and falls at American, but both airlines hint at higher prices the rest of the year
4:56PM ( 40 minutes ago )
American and Southwest signal rising airline fares ahead
Third-quarter profit rises at Southwest and falls at American, but both airlines hint at higher prices the rest of the year
4:33PM ( 1 hour ago )
AP Business
Dunkin' CEO: We will always make the doughnuts
Even though it is considering dropping "Donuts" from its name, the sweet treats won't be disappearing from the Dunkin' Donuts menu.
1:55PM ( 3 hours ago )
Twitter toughens abuse rules - and now has to enforce them
Twitter has toughened its rules against abuse; now it just needs to enforce them
1:36PM ( 4 hours ago )
Companies are looking for diverse ad teams to avoid blunders
Consumer product companies are looking for diverse advertising teams to connect with customers better _ and to avoid embarrassing mistakes
12:05PM ( 5 hours ago )
AP Business - Corporate News
Girardi fired as Yankees manager, leaving with 'heavy heart'
Joe Girardi fired as Yankees manager, leaving with 'heavy heart' after 10 seasons
5:24PM ( 12 minutes ago )
NY woman missing since '75 found alive in Massachusetts
Authorities say a New York woman who disappeared 42 years ago has been found suffering from dementia and living in Massachusetts
5:21PM ( 15 minutes ago )
Harvey Weinstein sues former company over emails, records
Harvey Weinstein sues former company over access to his emails and personnel file
5:18PM ( 18 minutes ago )
Waiting, waiting ... for release of JFK files
Public is left waiting for JFK assassination files, mandated by law to be released unless Trump blocks them
5:12PM ( 24 minutes ago )
APNewsBreak: Georgia election server wiped after suit filed
APNewsBreak: Georgia election server wiped clean by custodians shortly after lawsuit filed against officials
5:09PM ( 27 minutes ago )