WASHINGTON — Congressional leaders are calling for the “immediate cancellation” of the catering contract serving National Guard members protecting the U.S. Capitol after hospitalizations resulted from undercooked, contaminated meals.
“It is completely unacceptable that our men and women serving in Washington D.C. are being hospitalized due to the food they are being provided,” a letter penned Tuesday by Michigan members of the U.S. House of Representatives to National Guard chief Gen. Daniel Hokanson read.
“We request that either the current contract be voided and a new food provider be brought in or that the service members be provided with a per diem throughout their remaining time in Washington, D.C.,” the letter continued.
According to a closed-door National Guard update given to members of Congress, 59 people had wide-ranging gastrointestinal issues caused by food consumed at the Capitol, some of whom required a hospital diagnosis, WUSA reported.
Specifically, members of the Michigan National Guard reported finding metal shavings, feathers and undercooked meat in their meals, but Washington officials dispute the claims.
“No, none of the chickens served as food had feathers,” Army Maj. Aaron Thacker, a National Guard spokesman, told MLive.com.
Thacker also stated that “less than 0.01%” of the more than 1.2 million meals that have been served to more than 26,000 service members protecting the nation’s capital since Jan. 7 “appeared to be undercooked.”
“… there are always more meals prepared than are needed to accommodate issues of this nature, as well as Meals Ready to Eat (MREs),” Thacker told the outlet.
Meanwhile, Sen. Gary Peters, D-Michigan, called the reports of “undercooked, unsanitary and inadequate” meals “simply unacceptable” in a letter to Hokanson.
“After several attempts to rectify the situation and little progress, I believe that the only appropriate course of action is for the immediate cancellation of the existing food contract, the disbursement of per diem for the remaining duration of the mission and to provide retroactive per diem,” Peters wrote.
Thacker told MLive.com, however, that per diem compensation for meals is not part of standard deployment, calling its use in this situation impractical “for many reasons,” including COVID-19 pandemic risks and restrictions as well as lack of personal transportation for most service members.
According to WUSA, about 20% of the roughly 5,200 National Guard troops currently protecting the Capitol are from Michigan, and U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III has stated all troops are expected to leave the Capitol grounds when their contract expires March 12.