Federal contractors sent to Puerto Rico to improve hurricane relief efforts have filed whistleblower retaliation complaints alleging they were laid off after complaining about dysfunction and fraud within the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which they say thwarted disaster response operations and wasted taxpayer funds.

FEMA hired the Herndon, Virginia-based ATCS, a civil engineering firm, to implement a best practices system for recovery efforts following Hurricane Maria in September 2017. The storm created widespread destruction across the island. ATCS sent a team of contractors to Puerto Rico to manage resources for maximum efficiency and speed recovery.

According to the Washington Examiner, the whistleblowers were working to implement an operational structure used by GE called Six Sigma, which they had taught to other companies and successfully implemented in previous FEMA projects.

The program was supposed to end in October 2018 but was discontinued in June after the contractors signed their names to multiple whistleblower complaints submitted to the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Office of Inspector General. FEMA is a unit of DHS.

The contractors alleged that FEMA mismanaged the program by directing the team “in unsound and wasteful practices … This has [led] to an almost total lack of providing FEMA with the deliverables as described in the contract,” according to the Washington Examiner.

The whistleblowers also contended that FEMA managers constantly undermined their efforts and that FEMA chief on the island “was hostile to the [team’s] mission and obstructive of their efforts.” One of the whistleblowers called FEMA’s operations on the island “a clusterf—k” and said Iraq looked like a “German train schedule compared to this place.”

The whistleblowers said that FEMA punished them for identifying the very problems they had been brought in to try to solve.

Although Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory, parts of the Caribbean island remained decimated without food or electricity for several months following the 2017 hurricanes. The humanitarian crisis left in the wake of Hurricane Maria has been blamed for the deaths of more than 3,000 people.

Beasley Allen has a whistleblower litigation team experienced in handling these often complex cases. If you feel you have first-hand knowledge of fraud being committed against the government, you may be able to bring a claim. It is important to talk to a lawyer before you take any action. Contact Lance Gould, Larry Golston, Leslie Pescia or Tyner Helms in our Consumer Fraud Section for a confidential evaluation of your claim.

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