(CNN) — The Federal Emergency Management Agency canceled a $55 million unfulfilled contract with a Virginia company for an order of N95 masks that was supposed to be sent earlier this month — the latest in a string of cancellations many states and agencies have faced amid the scramble to procure personal protective equipment for front-line workers.
The company, Panthera Worldwide LLC, was awarded the contract on April 1 — to be fulfilled by May 1 — but it requested an extension for May 11. A FEMA official told CNN that FEMA reviewed the company, which is not a manufacturer, and believed it would be able to fulfill the contract. But when Panthera requested another delivery extension of 96 hours on May 11, FEMA denied the extension and canceled the contract. No money was paid for the contract, according to the official.
Panthera did not immediately return a request for comment.
Democratic Rep. Bennie Thompson, the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, called the loss “another example of a systemic problem affecting contracting at FEMA.”
“As demonstrated during the 2017 hurricane season, FEMA unfortunately has a history of awarding contracts for critical goods and services to companies that ultimately can’t deliver what they promise,” the Mississippi Democrat said in the statement.
“In this case, FEMA awarded a $55 million contract to a company for 10 million masks that it did not deliver by the initial May 1 deadline or extended deadline of May 11. This was predictable as the company has no prior experience obtaining medical supplies or equipment. FEMA must do better vetting companies during this pandemic. The health and safety of our first responders depends on obtaining a sufficient quantity of these essential N95 masks and other personal protective equipment.”
Lizzie Litzow, the FEMA press secretary, responded to Thompson’s statement, calling it “completely misleading.”
“That is a completely misleading statement about the detailed contracting work FEMA does during times of disasters,” she said. “In fact, FEMA awarded more than $3.9 billion dollars in contracts supporting response and recovery efforts for the 2017 hurricane season, with the agency canceling just three contracts. Those three companies did not meet their contract requirements when they were unable to meet the required delivery dates.”
CNN reported last week several cases of unfulfilled contracts after the Trump administration left it up to the states to stock their own front lines.
Since the coronavirus pandemic started, there’s been a global shortage of supplies — including N95 masks, gloves, surgical masks and disposable gowns — that would protect front-line and essential workers from the virus.