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Pennsylvania requested $ 340 million in emergency contracts in 2020 | News, Sports, Jobs

By on July 20, 2021 0

HARRISBURG – Lawmakers this week will consider whether state agencies had too much leeway to enter into emergency contracts during the pandemic, following a data breach controversy with a vendor hired to administer the research program contacts from Pennsylvania.

Representative Jason Ortitay (R., Allegheny) will lead a House hearing on Tuesday to investigate the emergency procurement process, which allows state agencies to bypass competitive public tenders to acquire what they say they are urgent supplies or services.

Between 2015 and 2019, agencies in Pennsylvania made an average of 135 emergency procurement requests each year, according to a Spotlight PA review of state data obtained through a right-to-know request. But in 2020, requests have grown to 483, about half of which are explicitly for the COVID-19 response. Only 15 were refused.

The estimated costs associated with these requests totaled more than $ 340 million last year, compared to an annual average of $ 81 million.

“It is not a very transparent process”, said Ortitay.

Separately, on Wednesday, the Senate committees on communications and technology, as well as health and human services, will question senior health department officials on why they are rushing over another research agenda deal for the contacts after the state fired the last company for data breach.

The Department of Health used the emergency procurement process to hire Insight Global in July 2020 to administer the contact tracing program and conduct outreach to those potentially exposed to COVID-19 in an effort to prevent The epidemics. The company’s original $ 22.9 million rose to $ 57.8 million in March, according to state Treasury Department records.

The health department fired the company in May this year after a security breach exposed the personal information of around 72,000 people.

Both hearings were prompted by a Spotlight PA report this month that found the Department of Health was using the same emergency process to strike a $ 34 million deal with Public Consulting Group, LLC, to take over the program. Health ministry officials justified the request saying the need for contact tracing is still urgent. Lawmakers holding the hearings this week are not yet convinced.

“We are grateful to the acting secretary [Alison] Beam has agreed to testify at this hearing ”, said Senator Kristin Phillips-Hill (R., York), who chairs the communications and technology committee.

“We have many questions about the cost, selection and merit of this contract, as well as many concerns regarding personal health care information, and the protection and safeguarding of the privacy of Pennsylvanians.” she said.

Gov. Tom Wolf’s office defended the process and, in a statement, described the oversight as “Complete, complete and transparent” but did not specify what controls are in place to ensure purchases are carefully controlled.

In a statement, a spokesperson for the health ministry said officials “I look forward to fully participating in the hearings.”

Define urgency and validity

State agencies can initiate an emergency supply at any time, not just during a governor-declared state of emergency or a global pandemic. They should explain why there is not enough time to get multiple quotes for the purchase, as well as how the supplier was selected and how the purchase will help the agency respond to a threat. “Health, welfare or public safety”, according to the emergency supply request forms.

Requests are submitted to the State General Service Department and are reviewed by the purchasing manager and product managers. An online database of applications shows that many are approved within a day or two of submission.

The sources of funding for the applications varied. A review of Spotlight PA found that some pandemic-related claims made since March 2020 have been paid for using federal emergency aid dollars, while claims related to other emergencies have been supported by d ‘other federal funding sources or departmental budgets.

Requests can be as simple as fixing a boiler or a hot water and heating failure at a state prison.

But some requests made during the pandemic weren’t that straightforward, a review of Spotlight PA found. Several were linked to the anticipation of Black Lives Matter and the November 2020 election protests.

When the National Guard was dispatched to Philadelphia in early June last year, emergency supply requests associated with that deployment included $ 100,000 for portable toilets and $ 250,000 for portable shower trailers, according to the U.S. files.

Several requests were related to the anticipation of Black Lives Matter and the November 2020 election protests.

The Department of Military Affairs and Veterans Affairs also requested commercial buses to transport members of the guard throughout the city, but that request did not include a price.

In October, Pennsylvania State Police submitted a request for $ 25,298 to purchase tactical glasses ahead of the Nov. 3 election in anticipation of the protests, according to the Emergency Supply Request.

The glasses would be used to protect the police from the laser pointers, which had been used “as a weapon to distract and deter the advance of riot lines” and could bring the agents “Serious injuries (including blindness)”, says the request.

State police spent $ 25,099 on 200 pairs of StingerHawk glasses using money from the federal fair share program, which is administered by the US Department of Justice.

In December, the Department of Corrections asked to spend $ 20,000 to hire a contractor to build a new service road entrance to SCI-Mahanoy, a state prison about 80 km southwest of Wilkes-Barre. , according to records.

A federal lawsuit alleges that prison officers there used so much pepper spray on Tyrone Briggs, a 29-year-old man from West Philadelphia, that they killed him. Fearing protests when filing the complaint, Corrections said there was an urgent need to build an alternative entrance to the facility for staff and deliveries.

But there was no protest, according to the lawyer representing Briggs’ family in the case, and he was not aware of any organization organized by the family or others.

State law does not require a written contract for emergency purchases.

To find out if the work had already been completed and how much the project ultimately cost, Spotlight PA requested invoices from the Corrections Department. A spokesperson for corrections confirmed that the road was built in January, a month after the initial request. The invoice dated the following month, February 28, indicates that the work cost $ 14,659.

It is used ” as required “, said the spokesperson for corrections, without elaborating.

Lack of

transparency

persists

The Insight Global contract was among the costliest to go through the emergency procurement process in 2020, and the proposed contract with Public Consulting Group would be one of the costliest of 137 claims filed in the first six months of 2021 .

Personal protective equipment has been a significant part of the demands since the start of the pandemic.

An Associated Press report in December estimated the state spent around $ 110 million on plastic face shields, masks, gloves and more from early 2020 to early last summer. This report does not specify how much of that spending was on emergency supplies, but House lawmakers held a hearing in March that focused on how state agencies used the process for quickly acquiring the equipment.

Department of General Services Secretary Curt Topper stressed to lawmakers that time was of the essence during the early days of the pandemic and that the standard solicitation process would not have been quick enough.

“This process can take weeks, and we had no weeks to spare,” he said.

Personal protective equipment has been a significant part of the demands since the start of the pandemic.

A spokesperson for the department later told Spotlight PA that it can take at least 45 days to finalize non-urgent solicitations. Approximately 1,200 of these purchases were made from March 2020 to March 2021.

Earlier this year, lawmakers questioned another costly purchase: an $ 11.6 million contract with Boston Consulting Group, a company hired by the Department of Health in February using federal aid to advise the group of State vaccine work on difficult deployment.

At the time, lawmakers who were part of the Vaccine Task Force couldn’t explain how the Boston Consulting Group was chosen.

“Anytime you hear about $ 11 million of a no-tender deal that’s done this way, yes, it raises eyebrows,” one of the members, Rep. Tim O’Neal (R., Washington), said.

Boston Consulting Group was hired before the first working group meeting and without O’Neal’s input. Still, the company’s advice improved what started as a “horrible” vaccine rollout, O’Neal said, a sentiment shared by several other members of the task force.

Contract documents show the company was hired to work on five vaccine-related goals: data management, organization and coordination, communications, smart vaccine allocation, and grant management. Members of the task force said many of these goals have been achieved.

To illustrate the impact of the business, task force members cited examples such as the downsizing of the vaccine supplier network from more than 700 sites to one. “Targeted network” from 200 to 300 providers at the end of March, which allowed the State to allocate more doses to larger sites capable of hosting mass vaccination clinics and speeding up the administration of the first doses.

Beam, the acting secretary of health, told lawmakers at a budget hearing in April that the Boston Consulting Group has helped the state improve communication and predictability around vaccine distribution, and ultimately deliver more vaccinations.

“It’s a dollar per Pennsylvanian that we would ask to try to get us to the other side of the pandemic”, she said. “And it’s an investment that we think is very worthy of every dollar spent.”

During the same hearing, Senator Michele Brooks (R, Mercer), who chairs the Senate Committee on Health and Human Services, said she saw the value of the company’s work, but questioned the high price and urged agency officials to keep in mind that funding, “Whether it’s a state or a federal government, it’s all taxpayer dollars. “

“I’m not sure the $ 11.6 million was needed,” Brooks said. “Maybe on a smaller version.”

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