Democratic Sens. Maria Cantwell and Ron Wyden are formally requesting the Government Accountability Office investigate the "use of public money to reimburse work completed by Whitefish Energy," the two-person company that was recently awarded a $300 million contract to restore power in Puerto Rico, according to a letter obtained by BuzzFeed News.
The letter urges the office to look into multiple concerns, including "the potentially inflated costs of time and material in the contract relative to comparable" agreements, "the opaque and limited nature of PREPA's [Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority] bidding process that led to the contract," as well as "the contemporaneous communications between Whitefish and senior members of the federal executive branch, including Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke."
The letter also asks the GAO to examine "whether it was wise of PREPA not to activate mutual aid assistance from mainland utilities" and requests that the GAO coordinate with the Puerto Rico Energy Commission in any review it undertakes."
Whitefish Energy has been the subject of media and congressional attention since weather.com first reported the lucrative contract last week. The contract raised questions, given the small size of the company as well as reports that the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority signed the deal with Whitefish Energy without a competitive bidding process. Furthermore, reports of links between Whitefish Energy CEO Andy Techmanski and Secretary Zinke — as well as Trump campaign donations from Joe Colonnetta, the head of one of Whitefish Energy’s major funding sources — have piqued the interest of the House Committee on Natural Resources, which is looking into the deal.
Earlier this week, Whitefish Energy spokesman Chris Chiames explicitly denied the suggestion of favoritism on behalf of government officials. “There was no federal involvement,” Chiames told BuzzFeed News. “There was never any special favors asked, nor would there have been.”
Despite Whitefish Energy's claims that the company's expertise in “rural and rugged areas” makes it uniquely qualified for the job of restoring power to Puerto Rico, San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz told Yahoo News on Tuesday that she found the deal "alarming" and asked for it to be terminated. Cruz's tweet provoked a Twitter feud in which Whitefish Energy asked if she wanted the company's subcontractors to continue working to restore power or leave. After a lengthy back-and-forth, the company apologized to the mayor and all of Puerto Rico for suggesting they might remove their workers and clarified that the tweet was not meant as a threat.
You can read the full letter below:
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Charlie Warzel is a senior writer for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York. Warzel reports on and writes about the intersection of tech and culture.
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