November 18, 2010

Board of Public Works approves old DJS contracts, but is not happy about it

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By Megan Poinski
Megan@MarylandReporter.com

Department of Juvenile Services Secretary Donald DeVore agreed with the Board of Public Works that 61 contracts worth more than $171 million for specialized services dating back to 2008 should have been approved years ago.

“There are no excuses, and I am extremely upset about it,” DeVore told the board at its Wednesday meeting.

Members of the Board of Public Works balked at the long list, but the contracts were ultimately ratified with votes from Treasurer Nancy Kopp and Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown. Comptroller Peter Franchot voted against approving the contracts.

DeVore said he got the long list of unapproved contracts for services already rendered as part of a report from the Office of Legislative Audits. The audit also revealed a host of large problems with recordkeeping, financial management, contracts, monitoring and personnel, including the loss of $3 million in federal Medicaid funds.

DeVore said he immediately reviewed the contracting process, picked out all of the contracts that had not been approved on schedule, and worked to develop a new automated process to prevent this from happening in the future. He told the board that he has made some personnel changes because of the contracting issues, but declined to go into specifics.

Although some of the unapproved contracts are more than two years old, DeVore said that the services had all been delivered, and the vendors had all been paid. Having the Board of Public Works ratify the contracts would protect the board from possible litigation about the services and would allow for some services to continue, since some of the contract terms are still running.

Franchot said that he could not in good conscience vote to approve the contracts. The Board of Public Works needs to make sure the contracting process is done fairly and that taxpayers’ dollars are spent responsibly, he said. Many of these old contracts were “sole-sourced,” meaning they were not put up for competitive bids, and there was no documentation presented to the board about any of the companies or the services they provide.

“You’re asking us to rubber-stamp 61 contracts, a lot of which are three years old,” Franchot said. “…There is no way to tell whether the taxpayers are getting the best deal for their money, other than your blanket statement.”

Franchot voted against the contract, calling it a form of protest. He urged DeVore to rebid all of the contracts that are still pending.

While Kopp did not join Franchot in voting against the contracts, she was also frustrated with the situation. Through her years in state government – both in the General Assembly and the executive branch – the Department of Juvenile Services has always had problems with its procurement methods, she said.

“A lot of agencies have a lot of problems, but there has never been a procurement agency that has had more problems,” Kopp said.

Brown, who was sitting in for Gov. Martin O’Malley as he toured damage in Baltimore City from Tuesday night’s storm, did not say anything about the contracts, but supported their ratification.