Political News

Two new inquiries into controversial Puerto Rico power grid contract

Posted October 26, 2017 4:42 p.m. EDT

— Two new inquiries have been opened into a contract awarded to a small Montana company to restore parts of Puerto Rico's power grid.

The inspector general of the Department of Homeland Security has opened an inquiry into the contract between Whitefish Energy and Puerto Rico's power authority, CNN has learned. The inquiry will examine the appropriateness of how the contract was done, according to the inspector general's office. This comes under the purview of the DHS inspector general because FEMA, which is under DHS, could be asked to reimburse the Puerto Rican government for part of the costs of the contract.

The inspector general considers the Whitefish Energy contract to be one of its high priority cases, the office said. It launched the investigation after seeing CNN's Bill Weir interview Whitefish's CEO Andrew Techmanski regarding how the company got the contract as well as calls by some members of Congress to look into the matter.

Among the areas that will be examined is whether the appropriate process was used to award this no bid contract. As part of the inquiry, the agency will examine the relationships between those who were involved in the contract.

One aspect of the contract that has drawn public scrutiny is the fact that the CEO of Whitefish Energy knows Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, and Zinke's son worked at one of the company's construction sites. An Interior Department spokeswoman has said Zinke had no role in helping the company obtain the contract.

The inquiry, which is not a full-blown inspector general investigation at this point, was launched earlier this week, according to the office.

Separately the House Committee on Natural Resources has also opened an inquiry into the contract, the committee announced Thursday. Chairman Rob Bishop, R-Utah, wrote to the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority on Thursday requesting documents on this contact, as well as information about its normal contracting procedures.

Earlier this month, the House Oversight Committee requested documents from FEMA and DHS regarding the Whitefish contract.

Whitefish Energy has secured an up to $300 million contract with the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority. The contract has raised questions because the company is only two years old, had two staffers when Hurricane Maria hit and the company is based in Zinke's hometown.