Python, Governments, and Contracts

2:30pm - 2:55pm on Saturday, October 5 in Madison

Froilan Irizarry, José Padilla

Description

After Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico in September 2017, the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority awarded Whitefish Energy, a small Montana-based firm with only two employees at the time, a no-bid contract for up to $300 million to repair part of the island’s electrical grid. This contract even had a clause that prevented the government from auditing or reviewing its labor cost and profit elements. National outrage led to the cancellation of this suspicious contract, a $200 million contract was awarded to Cobra Acquisitions, and some months later another $900 million contract was awarded to the same company, a subsidiary of an Oklahoma-based fossil fuel company. Why did PREPA enter into any agreements at all with private contractors when the standard procedure for near-term disaster response is for utilities to enter into mutual aid agreements with their counterparts in other states?

In the past few month’s I’ve noticed an increasing amount of investigative journalism tackling questionable contracts awarded by different government entities and officials in Puerto Rico. Lack of transparency, costly mismanagement, and abuse of power can be found throughout. I feel like it’s our duty to call these actions out and question and understand our government’s fiscal responsibility.

The Office of the Comptroller of Puerto Rico publishes awarded contracts online and they’ve built a tool that lets you search and even download contract documents (after they’ve been redacted of sensitive information). We decided to use Python and Django to build a tool that would leverage this data, showing what the government spends every year and how it spends the money.

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