WSP USA has been awarded a contract extending their role as FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) building inspectors for another five years.
WSP is a Canadian firm with more than 49,500 employees worldwide. They have been supplying inspectors for FEMA since 1995. They were in charge of housing inspections in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria hit in September, 2017.
“WSP USA inspection services support FEMA’s mission of providing compassionate, quality, timely housing inspection services for disaster survivors,” WSP’s press release announces.
“Our Puerto Rico inspectors have completed thousands of home inspections in areas with limited access, no power, no easy access to drinking water, and no communication capabilities to transfer their completed work without traveling miles to find minimal internet connectivity,” the company website said at the time. “Plus, they are sleeping on decommissioned naval vessels in shared bunking areas because there are no brick-and-mortar sleeping facilities available.”
The New York Times reported that the inspection process was particularly challenging in Puerto Rico. Inspectors processed four houses a day instead of the dozen a day expected in the states. Inspectors often got lost trying to find the homes they need to inspect. Eventually, 754,336 inspections were completed.
After the inspections
The territory government requested a review of many of those inspections, because they seemed unrealistically low. Then more than half of the grant applications were rejected by FEMA, often because it was difficult for the owners to prove their titles.
Questions arose about FEMA’s expenditures for their repair program, which seem to have gone toward fees and profits rather than for repairs. In the spring and summer of 2019, the Government Accountability Office released a series of reports on FEMA’s rebuilding efforts that described “challenges” centering on red tape preventing funds from being used in Puerto Rico.
More recently, the federal office of Housing and Urban Development admitted that they were breaking the law by failing to provide the funds allocated for repairs in Puerto Rico. House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita M. Lowey chastised HUD for missing a deadline Congress set by 90 days. In remarks at a press conference, Lowey said this:
On June 6, 2019, an additional $331 million in aid for Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands was signed into law.
That legislation also required HUD to publish all Federal Register notices for mitigation funding by September 4, 2019. No caveats. No carve-outs. No exemptions.
Yet, as we stand here today, 90 days past that statutory deadline, the notice for Puerto Rico still has not been issued.
The Administration’s decision to knowingly ignore that deadline is not only unacceptable, it is unlawful.
The home inspections were difficult to accomplish and the repairs needed have in many cases not yet been completed. GAO’s reports concluded that they weren’t yet ready to evaluate the effectiveness of the recovery efforts.