While no-bid government contracts are not unprecedented, the scale and absurdity of their implementation coincide with the greater corruption that characterizes Donald Trump’s presidency. Federal law states that “full and open competition” should be required for government contracts in order to maintain a fair and unbiased process. In the Trump era, full and open has been completely bypassed, and instead replaced with favoritism and cronyism. This is particularly apparent with Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and the undeserving contract he awarded to Whitefish Energy this past October, following Hurricane Maria’s devastation of Puerto Rico.
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Government-supported disaster relief contracts represent a two-pronged issue. First, federal law states that agencies can waive competitive bidding if they see it as “necessary in the public interest.” In the case of massive natural disasters, it could be argued that timeliness and severity of the damage compelled Zinke to make a no-bid agreement. Secondly however, hastily doling out government contracts to fix damage caused by natural disasters has historically resulted in wasted taxpayer money and minimal results, as evidenced during Hurricane Katrina. During Katrina, awarding no-bid contracts without standard investigation of the company’s conduct likely cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars. The combination of past mistakes and general practices surrounding cronyism makes it difficult to see how Zinke’s Whitefish scandal was anything but blatant cronyism, with complete disregard for the people of Puerto Rico.
Following Hurricane Maria, a small electrical company in Montana — Zinke’s home state — was granted a government contract to help rebuild the island. With only two full-time employees, Whitefish had minimal experience with large scale rebuilding projects, and yet they had just signed the largest contract to date to rebuild the island. How did this $300 million dollar contract come to fruition? It is impossible to ignore the fact that the company is headquartered in Zinke’s hometown, Whitefish, with a population of 7,200 people. Zinke’s sons even had summer internships at a construction site run by Whitefish’s CEO. On a larger scale, the private-equity firm that finances Whitefish was founded by a consistent Trump donor, Joe Colonnetta, who has been a staunch supporter making sizable donations from the primaries through the general election.
Though the contract was eventually canceled after much public scrutiny and outrage, Zinke continues to feign innocence. After the aforementioned information came to light, Zinke argued, “I had absolutely nothing to do with Whitefish Energy receiving a contract in Puerto Rico.” Zinke’s reaction is not unexpected, but nevertheless perpetuates the general lack of respect for law that has permeated the Trump Administration at all levels and ultimately resulted in further and unnecessary suffering of American citizens.
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Donald Trump has assembled the most unqualified and corrupt cabinet in modern American history. His administration’s unabashed and unchecked cronyism has created a government of officials with no experience in the offices they oversee.