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Cummings Presses Gowdy to Subpoena Pentagon Documents on Hurricane Response

Feb 26, 2018
Press Release

Cummings Presses Gowdy to Subpoena

Pentagon Documents on Hurricane Response

 

Washington, D.C. (Feb. 26, 2018)—Today, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, the Ranking Member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, sent a letter requesting that Chairman Trey Gowdy issue a subpoena to compel the Department of Defense (DOD) to produce documents the Committee requested more than four months ago relating to its preparation for, and response to, Hurricanes Irma and Maria in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

“In order to conduct a thorough and credible investigation, our Committee must obtain all of the documents we requested,” Cummings wrote, “including those relating to the positioning of DOD resources and personnel, the significant delays in clearing roads of debris and reopening the San Juan airport, and the insufficient number of helicopters available to reach rural areas in the immediate aftermath of these hurricanes.”

On October 11, 2017, Cummings and Gowdy sent a bipartisan letter requesting that DOD produce:

  1. Documents or communications received, prepared, or sent before September 5, 2017, by officials of the U.S. Department of Defense or any of its components, departments, offices, agencies, field activities, or commands, including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, relating to threat assessments, mitigation measures, emergency preparedness, or other contingency plans in the case of a hurricane striking Puerto Rico or the U.S. Virgin Islands; and

  2. Documents or communications received, prepared, or sent between September 5, 2017, and October 4, 2017, by officials of the U.S. Department of Defense or any of its of its components, departments, offices, agencies, field activities, or commands, including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, relating to any steps taken to prepare Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands for Hurricanes Irma and Maria, as well as logistics challenges, the distribution of commodities, or power restoration following the storms.

To date, DOD has made only one production, on December 19, 2017, and this production included only a few pages of email communications, which are essential for the Committee to conduct a thorough and credible investigation. 

“DOD’s response to the Committee’s bipartisan request has been inadequate,” Cummings wrote.  “DOD has provided no timeline for when it will provide the remaining documents the Committee requested.”

On October 11, 2017, Bob Salesses, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense, General Lori Robinson, Commander of Northern Command (NORTHCOM), Major General Michael Taheri, National Guard Bureau, and Major General Ed Jackson, Deputy Commanding General, Civil and Emergency Operations, United States Army Corp of Engineers, briefed Republican and Democratic Committee Members.  None of the DOD officials adequately addressed serious concerns about DOD’s effectiveness in responding to the hurricanes.

In his letter today, Cummings revealed that other federal government officials have raised their own serious questions about DOD’s effectiveness in responding to the hurricanes:

  • On October 26, 2017, Robert Kadlec, the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response at the Department of Health and Human Services, stated that working with DOD was “challenging.”  For example, he stated that his office requested mobile hospitals and other medical assets in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Maria, but DOD was “big, bulky, and slow.”  He stated that it took DOD more than three weeks to fulfill this request.

  • On January 23, 2018, Chris Meekins, the Deputy Assistant Secretary and Chief of Staff, and other officials from the Department of Health and Human Services, posed many of their own unanswered questions about DOD’s preparedness and response, including why the USNS Comfort sailed around Puerto Rico for days without docking and why DOD helicopters that were initially sent to Puerto Rico were unable to land on the USNS Comfort.

In addition, DOD has not produced its contracting documents, which has prevented the Committee from conducting a full and independent investigation of DOD’s contracting issues.

On February 6, 2018, Cummings and Rep. Stacey Plaskett from the U.S. Virgin Islands, who also serves as the Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on the Interior, Energy and Environment, sent a letter requesting that Chairman Gowdy issue a subpoena for documents relating to the decision by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to award a $156 million contract to deliver 30 million emergency meals to Tribute Contracting LLC, a one-person company with a troubling contracting record.

Click here to read the letter.

115th Congress