Woman behind botched FEMA contract to deliver meals in Puerto Rico speaks out

ATLANTA -- More than four months after Hurricane Maria, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is still providing food and water to devastated communities in Puerto Rico. Early in the crisis, FEMA awarded a large contract to a businesswoman from Atlanta to supply millions of meals, but only a fraction were delivered.

Tiffany Brown, the one-woman operator of Tribute Contracting in Atlanta, got a Google alert about FEMA seeking bids to provide meals to Puerto Rican victims of Hurricane Maria.

Tiffany Brown CBS News

Last October, Brown scored a $156 million FEMA a contract to provide 30 million meals at a cost of $5.10 each. She subcontracted the job to two companies including a caterer in Atlanta, with 11 employees.

We asked her if she really thought 11 people were going to deliver millions of meals.

"[The subcontractor] told me she was experienced with this work," Brown said. "As time went on she would be able to hire additional people to scale up."

Only 50,000 of the 30 million meals were delivered. FEMA terminated the contract "due to late delivery." FEMA says Brown's company was vetted. But she has had five previous government contracts terminated for "not delivering required food" and her "inability to ship products" -- and no experience in dealing with large-scale disasters.

"I've had challenges in that area, particularly because I'm so young and being a woman in the food industry world," Brown told us.

Meals for hurricane victims CBS News

One government agency put out a notice saying her company could not work for it again. But that warning did not apply to FEMA.

Democrats like Rep. Stacey Plaskett have criticized the agency's decision.  

"To issue a system-wide warning saying, this is not a company to do business with, then how could they have been prepared to do a $156 million contract with a one person operation?" she said.

"My biggest mistake was not asking for more help," Brown said.

Tiffany Brown is seeking $70 million dollars. Meanwhile, FEMA won't comment during the appeal but said food distribution was never disrupted.

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