The Lineman Got $63 an Hour. The Utility Was Billed $319 an Hour.

Questions are already being raised about a second contract that Prepa signed, this one with an Oklahoma company, Cobra, which was the highest bidder, required a $ 15 million down payment and — like the doomed Whitefish agreement — included a clause that said the deal could not be audited. At issue is managing what can be conflicting dynamics — the need to get essential work done quickly and the potential for it to be done at exorbitant prices. With roads and bridges wiped out, schools across the island damaged and health care needs expected to soar, the repair contracts are just two of many that are expected to easily cost billions of dollars. “We don’t do so well with emergency funding in this country,” said Leslie Paige, with Citizens Against Government Waste, a watchdog group. “We often do not see the final bill for these kinds of mistakes until after the fact, and the money is already gone.” Representative Rob Bishop, a Utah Republican who is chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee that is investigating the contract, said Whitefish served as a red flag. “Based on Whitefish, all of the contracts need to be looked at, especially from the beginning until there is a process we are comfortable with,” he said. The situation in Puerto Rico is dire: According to the research firm Rhodium Group, this is the largest blackout in United States history. After Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico on Sept. 20, power was knocked out at every home and business. On Sunday, 54 days later, the grid was working at 47.8 percent of capacity. The Whitefish case has already influenced Puerto Rico’s recovery: President Trump agreed to increase aid to the island — but only if the Puerto Rican government does a better job of estimating costs. “We have a lot of work to do when it comes to grant-monitoring at all levels of government,” Brock Long, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, told Congress recently, vowing not to commit “one dollar” to the Whitefish deal. The Whitefish contract has been particularly problematic. The Army Corps of Engineers, which is overseeing power restoration in Puerto Rico, did not hire Whitefish because its prices were more than double what the agency considered reasonable, according to the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs. “They are paying $ 3 million for hotels and $ 80 a day each for food,” said Johnny Rodríguez Ortiz, president of the organization of retired electrical workers in Puerto Rico. “I just had lunch with my wife, and it cost me $ 14.” Prepa agreed to pay Whitefish three times the going rate for aviation fuel, and about double what a helicopter specially equipped for transmission line construction should cost, according to industry insiders and people with knowledge of the Whitefish contract. The company is also billing about $ 4,000 an hour to rent a helicopter; companies that specialize in transmission line construction said that price is more than double what they charge. Continue reading the main story



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