But despite signing 1,100 contracts worth $591 million just for PPE, the VA has experienced a devastating shortage for weeks. Nurses and doctors are reusing masks, avoiding patients, and rationing gear. Stewart said his deal’s cost was being driven up by high demand and by the brokers trying to collect “success fees.” While he said King never disclosed his fees, he showed me another contract with a different broker. That offer, which FGE declined, would have paid 5 cents a mask – about $300,000 – to the broker setting up the deal. Ken Curley, a retired Army colonel whose company works with local governments and hospitals to order masks outside of this effective N95 masks, which the VA hired Stewart and his company to hunt down three days later, were in such short supply that they could only be used if there was a high chance of aerosolization, meaning the virus was believed to be temporarily airborne. Though Stewart repeatedly promised to show me his original VA contract pitch, he ultimately declined to share it. What is clear is that FGE, which is designated as a Service- Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business, had a competitive advantage in securing work at the VA, which sets aside certain contracts for small veteran-owned companies. Stewart declined to talk about how he qualifies as disabled.
said. “Why would anybody pay $22,000 to have a ghost box delivery? It doesn’t make any sense.” This was money out of FGE’s pocket. The government typically doesn’t pay vendors like Stewart until the goods are delivered. (ProPublica reimbursed FGE for the cost of a commercial ticket.) Stewart pulled a faded Bible from his bag and talked about miracles. His chance to prove himself on this deal, he said, is a small miracle. “Awarding a $34.5 million contract to a small company without any supply chain experience,” he mused. “Why would you do that?” PRICE GOUGING? Why the VA would do that is a lingering question. While the Federal Emergency Management Agency is officially leading the effort to scrounge up PPE, reportedly plucking shipments out from under states and other parts of the executive branch, the VA made its own supply purchases in March and April. But despite signing 1,100 contracts worth $591 million just for PPE, the VA has experienced a devastating shortage for weeks. Nurses and doctors are reusing masks, avoiding patients, and rationing gear. As BuzzFeed News reported April 7, despite the VA’s public assurances that the supply chain was “kicked into full gear,” leaders at one hospital said nurses and doctors were allowed only one surgical mask per shift. The more
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