Senators on Tuesday demanded accountability for the $300 million no-bid contract that Puerto Rico's power company gave to a tiny firm from the same small town as Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.
The contract was canceled Sunday after a week of mounting outrage.
Sen. Jon Tester, a Democrat from Montana, the state where Whitefish is based, asked for someone to be held accountable for the Whitefish contract, during the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing on hurricane response.
“I don’t understand what is going on here and where the accountability is,” Tester said at Tuesday morning’s hearing. “Maybe the financial [oversight] board is not doing their job. Somebody is not doing their job.”
Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., the chairman of the committee, said in his opening statement that the "issue with Whitefish is Exhibit A of how careful we need to be with spending taxpayer money.”
Johnson said the "primary problem" for the long-term future of Puerto Rico, even before the disaster, is the power grid. "We will be spending an awful lot of money, and that has to be controlled,” he said.
Brock Long, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said his agency will help make Puerto Rico’s power grid more resilient.
“A discussion has to be had on how we build a power grid that is resilient,” Long said. “Typically, we have to restore to pre-disaster condition. That is not optimal, and I would not recommend how this [island] should go. We should not be back in this situation again.”
A House Energy and Commerce Committee panel also plans to hold a hearing on Thursday on hurricane recovery and response efforts.
A spokesman for the House Energy and Commerce Committee told the Washington Examiner that Chairman Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., is working with Whitefish to fulfill his request last week for documents related to the contract.
Walden and Rep. Frank Pallone of New Jersey, the top Democrat on the committee, expect Whitefish to brief them by Nov. 9.