Category Archives: Purchasing

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. …

Related:
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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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.

FEMA faulted for failed contracts to deliver hurricane aid

Source: Associated Press, April 10, 2018

The Federal Emergency Management Agency awarded contracts for hurricane supplies without adequately researching whether winning bidders could deliver what they promised, according to a new investigation by Democrats on a Senate oversight committee. The investigation followed disclosures by The Associated Press in November that a newly created Florida company with an unproven record had won more than $30 million in FEMA contracts to provide 500,000 tarps and 60,000 rolls of plastic sheeting for repairs after Hurricane Maria damaged tens of thousands of homes in Puerto Rico. That vendor, Bronze Star LLC of St. Cloud, Florida, never delivered those urgently needed supplies. The report from Democrats on the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs described failures by the Trump administration that prevented timely delivery of tarps and sheeting to hurricane victims after the summer’s storms. It focused on the Bronze Star contract and another awarded to Global Computers and Networks LLC of Fort Washington, Pennsylvania. …

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Lawmakers seek probes of award for Hurricane Maria tarps
Source: Tami Abdollah, Associated Press, December 1, 2017

Democrats in Congress are pushing for investigations into how the Federal Emergency Management Agency awarded contracts worth $30 million to a fledgling company for Hurricane Maria disaster supplies that it failed to deliver to Puerto Rico. The senior Democrat on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, wrote Thursday to FEMA Administrator Brock Long, seeking more information about how FEMA evaluated Bronze Star LLC of St. Cloud, Florida. The Associated Press reported this week that FEMA awarded the small firm contracts for tarps and plastic sheeting that were never delivered. The agency ultimately terminated the contracts earlier this month without paying any money, but the episode caused a delay of four weeks. …

… Meanwhile, Rep. Sean Maloney, D-N.Y., wants the Homeland Security Department inspector general to investigate. He sought the review in an amendment to the Disaster Recovery Reform Act of 2017, which cleared the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on Thursday. Maloney’s amendment cleared the committee with unanimous bipartisan support, though it was unclear when the House will vote on the measure. The amendment specifically requests an inspector general audit of all contracts awarded for tarps and plastic sheeting for the U.S. territories of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. The review would include the contracting process used to evaluate bidders and award the contracts; the assessment of past performance and technical capacity to fulfill the contracts; and how FEMA ensures the contractors meet the terms. …

FEMA Contract Called for 30 Million Meals for Puerto Ricans. 50,000 Were Delivered.

Source: Patricia Mazzei and Agustin Armendariz, New York Times, February 6, 2018
 
The mission for the Federal Emergency Management Agency was clear: Hurricane Maria had torn through Puerto Rico, and hungry people needed food. Thirty million meals needed to be delivered as soon as possible.  For this huge task, FEMA tapped Tiffany Brown, an Atlanta entrepreneur with no experience in large-scale disaster relief and at least five canceled government contracts in her past. FEMA awarded her $156 million for the job, and Ms. Brown, who is the sole owner and employee of her company, Tribute Contracting LLC, set out to find some help. … By the time 18.5 million meals were due, Tribute had delivered only 50,000. And FEMA inspectors discovered a problem: The food had been packaged separately from the pouches used to heat them. FEMA’s solicitation required “self-heating meals.” …

Hurricane Harvey, Irma, and Maria Contract Spending Revisited

Source: Project on Government Oversight, January 8, 2018

Back in October, the Project On Government Oversight did a top-level analysis of federal government spending on Hurricane Harvey, Irma, and Maria recovery contracts, as reported by the Federal Procurement Data System (FPDS). The FPDS spreadsheets contain a wealth of data that allow the public to track billions of dollars in federal contract expenditures in precise detail: the agency awarding the money, the amount, the purpose, and the recipient. At that time, the government had spent a total of $1.65 billion on contracts. However, FPDS imposes a 90-day delay on the release of Department of Defense (DoD) data, so we were missing a big piece of the spending puzzle. Now, DoD numbers are starting to trickle in and we are getting a more complete picture of federal contracting outlays for the recovery efforts in Texas, Louisiana, Florida, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. The federal contract award total now stands at $3.3 billion: $1.2 billion for Harvey$726 million for Irma, and $1.4 billion for Maria. … Federal expenditures on Hurricane Harvey, Irma, and Maria contracts have now surpassed the $3 billion spent for Hurricane Sandy and are steadily approaching the $20 billion total for Hurricane Katrina. As the total grows, so too will the misuse of those funds. To that end, POGO plans to release a database that will track all federal spending relating to Hurricane Harvey. …

Education Department chooses firm with ties to Betsy DeVos for debt-collection contract

Source: Charlie May, Salon, January 14, 2018

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos once had financial ties to one of the two companies selected by the Department of Education to assist the agency in collecting unpaid student loans. The company, Performant Financial Corp., has also been criticized by other contract bidders for having inadequate ratings in the past. Performant and Windham Professionals were the two firms that were awarded contracts, out of almost 40 other bidders, and the deal is expected to be worth as much as $400 million, the Washington Post reported. The decision was touted by the Education Department as “the most advantageous to the government,” however, Performant’s past ratings have contrasted that assessment. Prior to her job with the Trump administration, DeVos was listed as an investor to LMF WF Portfolio, a limited liability company linked to Performant. …

Lockheed Martin, Boeing aerospace venture bilked U.S. for $90 million, lawsuit says

Source: Kirk Mitchell, The Denver Post, January 8, 2018

A whistleblower has settled a lawsuit filed against a Centennial aerospace company formed by Lockheed Martin and The Boeing Company that claimed the company defrauded the U.S. government out of at least $90 million by grossly overcharging for employee work hours. Whistleblower Joseph Scott filed the lawsuit on behalf of himself and the government against United Launch Alliance and United Launch Services, under the Federal Civil False Claims Act. Scott is a former ULA employee. … This wasn’t the first time ULA practices have come under scrutiny. In December 2016, ULA paid the government $100,000 to settle allegations that a subcontractor paid its employees kickbacks in order to win contracts. As a result, the U.S. paid higher costs to subcontractor Apriori Technologies between 2011 and 2015, Troyer has previously said. …

… ULA used a system called the Keith Crohn model that creates a grid using the cost of equipment to reach an employee cost. A labor value was placed on the grid for every item ordered through the company’s purchasing department. For example, any item that cost between $1 and $1,000 would be assigned a labor value of 8 hours. It didn’t matter what part it was, the lawsuit said. The U.S. bans arbitrary cost estimates when actual data is available that establishes the cost. ULA took advantage of the government’s practice of not auditing smaller projects. On projects above $100 million, the government audits bids and can reduce the contract price if the Defense Contract Audit Agency discovers discrepancies, the lawsuit says. In the first five to seven years of its existence, ULA often failed those audits. For larger audited launches, ULA began using historic data of actual prior labor costs, the lawsuit says.
But for smaller bids, ULA continued using its flawed estimates, knowing that it wouldn’t be audited, the lawsuit says. …

Pennsylvania lurches from one software boondoggle to another

Source: Joseph N. Distefano, Philly.com, December 1, 2017

The phones stopped working again at Pennsylvania’s unemployment-compensation offices Tuesday. “Due to vendor-related technical issues,” the state Department of Labor and Industry said. The same department has had to rely on what state auditors in May called “antiquated” software, written in the COBOL language used by punch-card programmers in the 1970s, since spending more than $160 million on a replacement system that failed. Elsewhere in Harrisburg, the Department of Human Services paid benefits to a couple of thousand dead people after computer systems failed to flag them as ineligible, auditors found last year. At the Department of Environmental Protection, the last full audit found water-quality reviews used “decades-old” data updated by hand. And after contractors were paid $800 million over the years, more than four times its projected cost since the 1990s, the Pennsylvania Statewide Radio Network still doesn’t work as designed.

… So Mr. Grove is sponsoring House Bill 1704, which would combine most state departmental IT offices and their short- and long-term planning, procurement, and cyber-security protection into a single Office of Technology. It would be part of the governor’s Office of Administration, under a director with the power to kill or suspend projects that run over budget or below standards. Pennsylvania IT contracts need “better controls” and “stronger clawback mechanisms” (performance bonds), so taxpayers can get their money back when the systems they buy don’t work, elected Auditor General Eugene DePasquale, a Democrat like Gov. Tom Wolf, said at a Nov. 14 hearing on the bill. … But Mr. Wolf’s appointees worry that the new office could “duplicate” and “conflict with” current procurement rules, Curt Topper, Mr. Wolf’s Department of General Services chief, told Mr. Grove at the hearing before Rep. Daryl Metcalfe’s Government Affairs Committee. …

The “Amazon Amendment” Would Effectively Hand Government Purchasing Power Over to Amazon

Source: David Dayen, The Intercept, November 2, 2017

… Instead of getting yelled at by lawmakers, Amazon is on the verge of winning a multibillion-dollar advantage over retail rivals by taking over large swaths of federal procurement. Language buried in Section 801 of the House-passed version of the National Defense Authorization Act, which is being hashed out in a conference committee with the Senate, would move Defense Department purchases of commercial off-the-shelf products to “online marketplaces.” Theoretically, that means any website that offers an array of options for paper clips or office furniture; in reality that signals likely dominance for Amazon Business, the company’s commercial sales platform. Section 801 stipulates that the program should be designed “to enable Government-wide use of such marketplaces.” Scale, then, is key. Over time, this change would give platforms like Amazon access to all $53 billion in federal government commercial item purchases.

… “It seems like Amazon wrote it,” said Stacy Mitchell of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, which has written critical reports about Amazon in the past. “It will accelerate the transfer of more and more government spending to Amazon.” The online marketplace provision, which still has to get through a House-Senate conference, coincides with a significant ramp-up for Amazon Business, which only launched in 2015. … But federal procurement is the holy grail, the lucrative market to tap. Perhaps that’s why, for the head of Amazon Business’s public sector division, the company hired Anne Rung, who ran the Office of Management and Budget’s Office of Federal Procurement Policy until fall 2016. This made Rung effectively the top purchasing officer in the United States. … Indeed, Section 801 has been informally dubbed the “Amazon amendment,” and experts believe only one or two companies would have the wherewithal to participate. That means monopoly or duopoly control of $53 billion in federal purchasing. The online marketplaces, which can be given no-bid contracts, explicitly eliminate the need for government procurement officers to seek out competitive bids for commercial products. …