The Trump administration lined up unprecedented bureaucratic obstacles that delayed approximately $20 billion in hurricane relief for Puerto Rico, according to an inspector general report that could be released publicly as soon as Thursday.
In a 46-page document first reported by the Washington Post early Thursday, the inspector general said it uncovered procedural hurdles created by the White House budget office that stalled recovery aid despite efforts by Trump administration officials to obstruct its investigation into the delay by the request of Congress in 2019.
Hurricanes Irma and Maria had left Puerto Rico residents without power and clean water for months after ravaging the U.S. territory in 2017.
According to the Post, the report revealed that OMB added an extra approval step that demanded the Housing and Urban Developments department’s notice of grant funds undergo an interagency review process which prevented HUD from publishing its draft notice of funding by its target date.
The inspector general said the OMB had not previously demanded such a review process for a notice allocating disaster relief funds, according to the Post.
Amid repeated attempts to block aid to Puerto Rico at the time, President Donald Trump had reportedly also told at least two officials that he did not want a single dollar going to Puerto Rico but wanted more funding instead to be designated to Florida and Texas.
According to the report, HUD Deputy Secretary Brian Montgomery likened the White House’s actions to holding disaster-relief funds “hostage” in communications with then-acting OMB director Russell Vought, the Post said.
In efforts to produce the report, watchdogs were also met by obstruction efforts in terms of their limited access to officials and HUD information.
Former Housing and Urban Development secretary Ben Carson and another former HUD official apparently refused to be interviewed during the investigation, the Post said.
The refusals for cooperation in the probe, are just the latest example of how Trump officials thwarted oversight investigations by federal watchdogs who are mandated by Congress to monitor agencies for waste, fraud and misconduct.
While investigators interviewed 20 current and former HUD officials and two Puerto Rico housing officials, they were unable to ever gain access to Carson, the Post said.
The report on the relief holdup under Trump, comes as the Biden administration removed what it called “onerous restrictions unique to Puerto Rico that limited the island’s access” to disaster recovery funds and announced it would obligate $8.2 billion in federal mitigation funds to support the island’s recovery and renewal.
“Since its first days, the Biden-Harris Administration has prioritized action to enable stronger recovery for Puerto Rico,” HUD Secretary Marcia Fudge said in a statement Monday. “The actions taken by HUD today will unlock access to funds Puerto Rico needs to recover from past disasters and build resilience to future storms, while ensuring transparency and accountability.”