Category Archives: Oversight/Contract.Management

Labor Dept. Wants Religious Freedom Focus in Bias Probes

Source: Ben Penn, Bloomberg Law, August 10, 2018 (Subscription Required)
 
The Trump administration is expanding the circumstances in which federal contractors can use religious beliefs as a defense against job discrimination charges, a move likely targeting the Obama Labor Department’s ban on bias against gay and transgender workers.  The DOL’s Office of Federal Contractor Compliance Programs issued a new enforcement directive Aug. 10 calling for investigators to factor in recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings and White House executive orders that protect religious freedom. Lawmakers, administrative agencies, and courts have grappled with drawing a line between religious liberty and unlawful discrimination. …

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“We just get by check to check”: Workers cheated as federal contractors prosper
Source: Talia Buford and Maryam Jameel, Salon, April 6, 2017
 
… But each year, thousands of contractors enriched by tax dollars skirt federal labor laws and shortchange workers. In fact, U.S. Department of Labor data show that upwards of 70 percent of all cases lodged against federal contractors and investigated by the department since 2012 yielded substantive violations. … The Center for Public Integrity examined a subset of 1,154 egregious violators — those with the biggest fines, highest number of violations or most employees impacted — included in the Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division enforcement database and cross-referenced them with more than 300,000 contract records from the Treasury Department. The Center found that between January 2015 and July 2016:

  • Federal agencies modified or granted contracts worth a total of $18 billion to 68 contractors with proven wage violations. Among them: health-care provider Sterling Medical Associates, Cornell University and Corrections Corporation of America
  • Of all agencies, the U.S. Department of Defense employed the most wage violators – 49, which collectively owed $4.7 million in back pay to almost 6,200 workers. The department paid those 49 contractors a combined $15 billion
  • Violations by the 68 contractors affected some 11,000 workers around the country — about the same number of people who moved to D.C. in 2016.

…The Labor Department tried to address the problem in 2016 with a rule that would have required federal contractors to disclose wage and safety violations and come into compliance with the law if they wanted to keep doing business with the government. Invoking a statute rarely used prior to the Trump administration, however, Congress voted to undo the regulation — already on hold because of a legal challenge — and Trump sealed its fate with his signature. …

Trump’s Courageous, Valiant Decision to Gut Government Worker Safety
Source: Michelle Chen, The Nation, April 5, 2017
 
As he gets ready to put Americans to work on big-league federal projects, President Trump seeks to cut “burdensome red tape” for federal contractors. But that might mean cutting a few fingers and toes, too. That’s because Trump has repealed an Obama administration executive order ensuring fair pay and safety standards for workers contracted for government projects. So the workers Trump wants to supposedly rebuild bridges and highways will be working under a regulatory regime that’s now more likely to ease up on abusive employers in “public-private partnerships.” …

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How Trump Radicalized ICE

Source: Franklin Foer, The Atlantic, September 2018

… Since its official designation, in 2003, as a successor to INS, ice has grown at a remarkable clip for a peacetime bureaucracy. By the beginning of Barack Obama’s second term, immigration had become one of the highest priorities of federal law enforcement: Half of all federal prosecutions were for immigration-related crimes. … ICE quickly built a sprawling, logistically intricate infrastructure comprising detention facilities, an international-transit arm, and monitoring technology. This apparatus relies heavily on private contractors. Created at the height of the federal government’s outsourcing mania, DHS employs more outside contractors than actual federal employees. Last year, these companies—which include the Geo Group and CoreCivic—spent at least $3 million on lobbying and influence peddling. To take one small example: Owners of ICE’s private detention facilities were generous donors to Trump’s inauguration, contributing $500,000 for the occasion. … An organization devoted to enforcing immigration laws will always be reflexively and perhaps unfairly cast as a villain. … Still, ICE, as currently conceived, represents a profound deviation in the long history of American immigration. …

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For-profit prison company threatens anti-ICE group with lawsuit for telling world what they do
Source: Alan Pyke, ThinkProgress, August 6, 2018
 
A protest campaign targeting for-profit detention company GEO Group with numerous nationwide actions at facilities connected to President Donald Trump’s ramped-up deportations has been threatened with legal action by the company’s high-powered litigators. …

Why It’s Hard To Hold Contractors Accountable For The Suffering Of Immigrant Children
Source: Susan M. Sterett The Conversation, August 2, 2018
 
….Although federal detention is a government policy, the federal government does not directly run most of the facilities where families are detained or kids end up on their own. Instead, it hands nonprofit groups, for-profit businesses and local governments US$1 billion a year or more to house nearly 12,000 children. This money is dispensed through government contracts that do not always gain much public attention.  But now, amid protests and other forms of public pressure, some contractors are severing their ties to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. This is a new development as oversight by government officials and watchdog groups has historically centered largely on costs, fraud or whether contractors broke laws – not whether there was something inherently wrong with the contracts themselves.  Having studied the politics of accountability for many years, I would argue that the responsibility for these unpopular immigration policies largely lies with the federal government, not its contractors…..

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Millions Flow to Pentagon’s Banned Contractors Via a Back Door

Source: Sam Skolnik, Bloomberg Government, August 6, 2018
 
Some of the world’s largest companies have benefited from a little-known law that lets the Defense Department override decisions barring contractors accused or convicted of bribery, fraud, theft, and other crimes from doing business with the government.  International Business Machines Corp., Boeing Co., BP Plc, and several other contractors have received special dispensation to fulfill multimillion-dollar government contracts through “compelling reason determinations.” That process allows the Defense Department in rare cases to determine that the need to fulfill certain contracts justifies doing business with companies that have been suspended from government work.  The 22 determinations were released by the General Services Administration at the request of Bloomberg Government, allowing for the first collective examination of the cases and the system that allowed them. …

… The determinations, also referred to as waivers or overrides, included contracts to provide food services for Defense Department personnel at an Army base in Afghanistan, “vital” web-hosting services for an agency that serves the Pentagon and the U.S. intelligence community, and aviation fuel sold to the Defense Logistics Agency. In some instances, contracting officials said the overrides were matters of life or death. Companies receiving waivers included some accused or convicted of major fraud, wire fraud, conspiracy, ethical bidding violations, and in the case of fuel-seller BP, an overall “lack of business integrity.” In the most recent waiver case—issued just several weeks ago—an affiliate of one of South Korea’s largest conglomerates was suspended for allegedly bribing an Army contracting official and another man to deliver a $420 million contract involving expansion of a U.S. base south of Seoul. …

Ruling unlikely to end Puerto Rico Oversight Board struggle with local government

Source: Robert Slavin, Bond Buyer, July 24, 2018 (Subscription Required)

Puerto Rico bankruptcy judge Laura Taylor Swain’s anticipated ruling on the relative powers of the Oversight Board and the local government is unlikely to end the battle for authority over the debt-burdened U.S. territory. Swain will hear oral arguments Wednesday on an adversary complaint filed earlier this month in the Title II bankruptcy case by Gov. Ricardo Rosselló, in which he argued the local government can’t be forced to follow parts of the board’s fiscal plan that deal with policy. Governance issues are likely to remain whatever her ruling, observers said. … Other Puerto Rico government sectors have followed the government in filing adversary complaints challenging the board’s power. On July 9 Puerto Rico Senate President Thomas Rivera Schatz and Puerto Rico House President Carlos Méndez Núñez filed a complaint similar to the governor’s. On Tuesday the biggest minority party in Puerto Rico, the Popular Democratic Party, said it planned to submit an adversary complaint on different grounds on the same day. …

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Puerto Rico governor names new utility head after board members quit
Source: Reuters, July 18, 2018
 
Puerto Rico’s governor on Wednesday named a new executive director of the bankrupt Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA), following the resignation of its former head and four of the utility’s seven-member board last week.  Jose Ortiz will replace Rafael Diaz-Granados, who quit a day after being named executive director, leaving the utility with no leadership amid a massive restructuring effort following devastation wrought by Hurricane Maria last September.  Diaz-Granados and the four other board members resigned after Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosello blasted them for agreeing to pay Diaz-Granados an annual salary of $750,000. The PREPA board unanimously elected Ortiz, an engineer, to the post on Wednesday, Rosello’s office said in a tweet. Ortiz, the fifth PREPA executive director named since the hurricane devastated the island and its electric grid last September, is due to take office on July 23. …

Puerto Rico Bondholders Win Ruling Against U.S.
Source: Andrew Scurria, Wall Street Journal, July 16, 2018
 
A federal judge has refused to absolve the U.S. government of liability for investors’ losses on Puerto Rico bonds, a potential blow to efforts to write down the U.S. territory’s $73 billion debt load.  The ruling issued Friday by Judge Susan G. Braden of the U.S. Court of Federal Claims is an incremental victory for hedge funds fighting to get repaid on the $3 billion in Puerto Rico pension bonds These creditors have targeted the U.S. directly, saying the federal government should make them whole for enacting a 2016 law that set them up for losses.  The lawsuit strikes at the heart of the rescue law, known as Promesa, designed to tackle the U.S. territory’s fiscal crisis. Promesa was designed to avoid a taxpayer bailout of Puerto Rico, creating a court-supervised process for wringing debt reductions from creditors instead. …

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Amazon quietly signed a $5.5 billion deal to sell its products to American cities — here are some of the biggest spenders

Source: Leanna Garfield, Business Insider, July 22, 2018

… In 2017, Amazon signed a contract with US Communities to provide its products to 1,500 public agencies, ranging from Atlanta Public Schools to the Mesa, Arizona police department. According to the co-op, Amazon could receive up to $5.5 billion over the next 11 years (or $500 million a year) as a result. … These were the top 10 spenders, which span most regions of the US, in 2016:

  • Denver Public Schools — $1,560,726
  • Portland School District, Oregon — $629,031
  • Denver City and County — $548,419
  • Salt Lake County, Utah — $515,686
  • Austin, Texas — $501,724
  • Portland, Oregon — $493,677
  • Montgomery County, Maryland — $455,011
  • Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania — $289,128
  • Hennepin County, Minnesota — $233,819
  • Los Angeles County, California — $217,850

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How Amazon’s contract to sell office supplies to cities could hurt local retail
Source: Abha Bhattarai, Washington Post, July 10, 2018

The city of Atlanta, Denver public schools and the Mesa, Ariz., police department are among the 1,500 public organizations that since last year have signed new contracts to buy office supplies, books, even musical instruments directly from Amazon, according to a report released Tuesday by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, a nonprofit group that advocates for strong local economies. The contracts with Amazon could drive billions of dollars in public spending to the online giant in coming years, propelled in part by the ease of purchasing online — but which, like in consumer retail, risk penalizing independent retailers. … The local deals are part of a larger contract Amazon signed in January 2017 with U.S. Communities, a purchasing cooperative that negotiates contracts with suppliers on behalf of its members, which include a number of municipalities and government agencies. The five-year contract, which can be renewed for up to 11 years, is valued at $500 million a year. … But the Institute for Local Self-Reliance says the contracts do not include price guarantees or volume discounts that are typical of public purchasing agreements, potentially putting cities and counties at risk of overpaying for basic supplies. …

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Audit at Texas Health and Human Services Commission finds latest in long line of problems

Source: Robert T. Garrett, Dallas News, July 18, 2018

Texas’ sprawling bureaucracy for regulating health care and providing social services is vulnerable to a “perception of impropriety” because it routinely lets individual contracting personnel open bids on their own, without any witnesses, a new internal audit says. The Health and Human Services system also unwisely allows program managers and division leaders who control billions of dollars of spending to ask for the same contracting specialist every time, the audit said. That potentially creates a coziness that could harm taxpayers’ interests, it said. Problems highlighted in the audit, which was released to state GOP leaders last week, are the latest in a long line of problems at the Health and Human Services Commission. Six officials have stepped down since early April, when Gov. Greg Abbott called revelations of sloppiness and mistakes in scoring of bids “unacceptable.” …

Another audit released Tuesday by an independent arm of the Legislature looked at nearly 70 percent of the $6.7 billion worth of contracts that the commission awarded in a recent 27-month period. There were problems with every single one of the 28 separate calls for bids or grant proposals that the State Auditor’s Office examined. … Both the commission’s internal audit and the State Auditor’s Office review sharply criticized sloppy handling and scoring of bids for billions of dollars worth of work for the Medicaid program for the poor and other health and social services programs. …

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Pain & Profit series from the Dallas Morning News, published June 2018

  • The preventable tragedy of D’ashon Morris
    Doctors described him as “happy and playful” and told his foster mother he would be healthy by the time he went to kindergarten. That was before a giant health care company made a decision that saved it as much as $500 a day — and cost D’ashon everything.
  • As patients suffer, companies profit
    Imagine being trapped in a bed for more than a year because you can’t get the medical equipment you need. Years of poor oversight by the state have allowed health care companies to skimp on essential care for sick kids and disabled adults.
  • Texas pays companies billions for ‘sham networks’ of doctors
    The state tells foster parents that hundreds of psychiatrists will see their kids. We found only 34. Managed-care companies overstate the number of physicians available to treat the state’s sickest patients.
  • ‘Glossover of the horror’
    A whistleblower says taxpayers are not getting their money’s worth and sick people are not getting the care they need. Texas fails to act when health care companies put patients in peril.
  • Parents vs. the Austin machine
    “You can tell that he’s crying or screaming, but nothing comes out.” Texas families take fight for medically fragile children to the Legislature.

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Insurers Fall Short In Catching And Reporting Medicaid Fraud, Inspectors Find

Source: Chad Terhune, Kaiser Health News, July 12, 2018

Despite receiving billions of dollars in taxpayer money, Medicaid insurers are lax in ferreting out fraud and neglect to tell states about unscrupulous medical providers, according to a federal report released Thursday. The U.S. Health and Human Services’ inspector general’s office said a third of the health plans it examined had referred fewer than 10 cases each of suspected fraud or abuse to state Medicaid officials in 2015 for further investigation. Two insurers in the program, which serves low-income Americans, didn’t identify a single case all year, the report found. Some health plans terminated providers from their networks for fraud but didn’t inform the state. The inspectors said that could allow those doctors or providers to defraud other Medicaid insurers or other government programs in the same state. In addition, some insurance companies failed to recover millions of dollars in overpayments made to doctors, home health agencies or other providers. The inspector general said insurers stood to benefit financially from this because higher costs can justify increased Medicaid rates in the future. (The report didn’t name specific insurers or states.) …

…Health insurers serve about 55 million Medicaid patients across 38 states, and play an increasingly vital role in running the giant public insurance program. … One in 5 Americans is on Medicaid and enrollment is poised to rise even further as more states consider expansion under the Affordable Care Act. About 75 percent of Medicaid patients are part of a privatized system in which managed-care companies are paid fixed fees per patient to coordinate their care. Big, publicly traded companies such as UnitedHealth, Anthem and Centene dominate the business. In some states like California, evidence shows the funding often flows to the plans with little oversight, sometimes regardless of their performance. These companies tout their expertise at spotting suspicious billing patterns and chasing down criminals using sophisticated data mining, but the inspector general found that their fraud-fighting results don’t always match the rhetoric. …

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Company pays millions to settle allegations of overbilling on statewide contract

Source: WCVB5 ABC, July 10, 2018

A local supplier of electrical and lighting products is being required to refund nearly $1.2 million to hundreds of state organizations to settle allegations of overbilling on a statewide contract. Granite City, a Quincy-based company, will also pay another $1.18 million in fines. “This company engaged in a pattern of overbilling that cost hundreds of government agencies – including school districts, cities and towns – millions of dollars,” Attorney General Maura Healey announced. Granite City’s refunds will be paid to 285 public entities, including municipalities, school districts, libraries and hospitals. The company was supposed to sell equipment to those organizations at discounted rates, the AG’s office said. … In addition to the payments, the terms of the settlement bar Granite City from participating in public contracts for one year and require changes to the company’s business practices.

Consultant: District Wasting $1M Annually on Inefficient School Bus Routes

Source: July 10, 2018, School Bus Fleet

LAKEWOOD, N.J. — A school district here is wasting over $1 million a year, a transportation consultant has found, on inefficient school bus routes that it outsourced to private companies, while some of its own buses go unused, Asbury Park Press reports. The consultant, Ross Haber of Ross Haber Associates, was hired earlier this year to pinpoint potential cost savings in the public school transportation program, according to the newspaper. Lakewood Public School District spent about $9 million on public school transportation over the past school year. The report comes after the district took a $28 million loan from the state to settle a budget deficit for the upcoming school year, Asbury Park Press reports. … Haber’s preliminary findings are posted on the school district’s website and he shared an update on Thursday at a public meeting that was attended by school officials and dozens of district bus drivers and aides, Asbury Park Press reports. The report finds that inefficiencies include too many bus stops, empty seats on buses, and buses being contracted while some of the district’s own buses sit idle. …

Health provider in scandals loses first 3 state contracts

Source: Doug Thompson, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, July 7, 2018

The state began closing down the first three of its 16 contracts with Preferred Family Healthcare on Friday, after a year and a half of scandals that include convictions of four former lawmakers on corruption charges. Preferred Family is a nonprofit behavioral health and substance abuse treatment company. It has 47 locations in Arkansas. The Springfield, Mo., company has $28 million in contracts with the state to provide services ranging from therapy and counseling for foster children to court-ordered drug and alcohol addiction treatment and professional consulting to the state Department of Human Services. In addition, the company received more than $33 million a year through the state Medicaid program. Preferred Family operates in five states. … A U.S. Department of Justice investigation has obtained three guilty pleas and one jury conviction against former Arkansas lawmakers in a multimillion-dollar corruption scheme that started at least as early as 2010. … The state was assured by Preferred Family it had dismissed the company executives involved since the first guilty plea Jan. 4, 2017. Then former Preferred Family executive Robin Raveendran was charged last week, accused of filing $2.3 million in improper Medicaid claims for mental health services. Gov. Asa Hutchinson and the state’s Office of Medicaid Inspector General announced the state would cancel contracts with the company and suspend Medicaid payments to it. …

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Troubled Missouri nonprofit settles wage lawsuit amid federal probe of bribery, kickback scheme
Source: Wesley Brown, Talk Business & Politics, July 1, 2018

During the period when a Missouri healthcare nonprofit was doling out millions of dollars in bribes and kickbacks to Arkansas lawmakers, public officials and its own well-paid executive team, the troubled healthcare group was fleecing hundreds of lowly paid hourly workers out of overtime pay, according to allegations in a recent federal lawsuit. In early April, Springfield, Mo.-based Preferred Family Healthcare (PFH) agreed upon a tentative settlement with former employee Frances Smith over allegations that PFH and its handful of Arkansas-based affiliates failed to pay the former healthcare worker and other agency employees overtime compensation for working over 40 hours per week, according to pleadings with the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas. …