MARYLAND MATTERS: Franchot, Kopp Slam State Agencies Over Their Late-Filed Contracts

Bruce DePuyt

MAY 5, 2021

How long does it take to fax a three-page report from one agency to another during a pandemic?

That question produced friction among members of the state’s influential Board of Public Works on Wednesday, as the panel’s Democrats — Comptroller Peter V.R. Franchot and Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp — vented anew about the Hogan administration’s unwillingness to forward contracts for approval in accordance with state law.

Under Maryland procurement regulations, contracts — even “emergency” contracts — must be submitted to the BPW within 45 days of the date they are signed.

“It’s unacceptable,” Franchot said. “It’s a significant threat to the authority of the board.”

The Board of Public Works is made up of the treasurer, comptroller and Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R), a onetime Franchot ally. It meets year-round, approving billions of dollars in contracts.

An announced candidate for governor, the state’s four-term tax collector said the panel is effectively prevented from doing its job when contracts arrive long after contractors have begun their work.

“By the time the board has a chance to review it, the agencies are months into the emergency contract,” he said. “Any board action to nullify or remand them would be disruptive.”

Under questioning from Franchot, the board’s executive secretary, John T. Gontrum, said that — since the pandemic began — state agencies have submitted 46 “emergency” contracts beyond the 45-day grace period they are allowed.

Franchot insisted that his complaints do not flow from a desire to do “some kind of cumbersome procurement process.”

“I’m talking about 46 emergency contracts, representing hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer money, that could not be given to us within 45 days, for some reason,” he said.

One item, he noted, was 12 months late and the initial contract had already expired.

“Literally, we’re talking about faxing a three-page document to the Board of Public Works.”

Kopp agreed with Franchot, saying “this is the way we assure transparency and a good procurement process.”

“People [in the agencies] see this as ‘one more report.’ It’s not that,” she added. “This report is the citizens’ report. Through this report they know where their money is going. … I just don’t understand why you can’t just fax something over, saying ‘today, I’m doing this,’ or ‘last week, we did this.’”

Hogan sat stone-faced as his BPW colleagues complained about late contracts — though at one point he grabbed one of two cell phones next to his papers and started typing. He later clicked off his microphone to speak to someone off-camera.

As he has during prior board sessions, Hogan blamed the urgent need to fight the pandemic.

“Frankly, did they drop the ball because they didn’t stop what they were doing to fill out some paperwork, important paperwork? Yes, they did,” he said. “But I think they would argue they just didn’t have time to do it, but they are catching up.”

“I agree with all the comments about [how] we have to do better,” the governor added.

Franchot persisted in his criticism, saying he wants an update in two weeks on how the Department of General Services intends to get contracts to the BPW more quickly.

That led to a testy exchange with Hogan over whether agencies have been focused on “saving peoples’ lives.”

“It’s not rocket science,” the comptroller told Robert Gleason, the chief procurement officer for state government. “It’s your leadership.”

In interviews with Maryland Matters, Dana L. Dembrow, the former procurement chief at the Department of Health, said Hogan likes being able to operate under emergency rules because it allows agencies to be more nimble. A former member of the state Board of Contract Appeals, Dembrow has also said that the administration should end its use of emergency contracts.

Gleason told Kopp and Franchot that personnel shortages and the intense global frenzy to find pandemic-related supplies accounted for some of the delay in reporting contracts to the board.

“Our process should be better,” he later allowed. “I don’t know why they can’t be.”

Franchot said that filing contracts on time “is not something that will take people away from essential work. It takes 10 minutes to fax the Board of Public Works.”

Below is a summary of the 12 health department contracts the BPW approved unanimously on Wednesday. Five of them failed to reach the board secretary’s office on time. In each case, a “reason for lateness” — not always enlightening — was provided by the agency.

Item A1:

A $409,000 Maryland Department of Health contract to use a portion of the parking lot at Regency Furniture Stadium in Waldorf for a COVID-19 testing and vaccination site.

Procurement Method: Emergency (Sole Source)

Original Award Date: Feb. 24, 2021

Term: Feb. 24, 2021 – Aug. 23, 2021 (w/two 3-month options)

Fund Source: 100% Federal (CARES Act)

Reason for Lateness: “The continued efforts to ensure the State’s property needs are met, both on a regular and emergent basis, delayed the filing of this report.”

Item A2:

A $2.6 million Maryland Department of Health contract to lease up to 448,000 square feet of warehouse space from Under Armour, “for storage of palletized personal protective equipment and medical equipment as well as incoming pandemic supplies.”

Procurement Method: Emergency (Sole Source)

Original Award Date: June 18, 2020

Term: June 18, 2020 – Dec. 31, 2020 (plus possible monthly renewals)

Fund Source: 100% Federal (CARES Act)

Reason for Lateness: “The continued efforts to ensure the State’s property needs are met, both on a regular and emergent basis, delayed the filing of this report.”

Item A3:

A $5.6 million Maryland Department of Health contract to allow the state to continue using the Baltimore Convention Center for FEMA modular medical units, warehouse space and COVID-19 testing.

Procurement Method: Emergency (Sole Source)

Fund Source: 100% Federal (CARES Act)

Reason for Lateness: “The continued efforts to ensure the State’s property needs are met, both on a regular and emergent basis, delayed the filing of this report.”

Item A4:

A $200,000 Maryland Department of Health contract to use Parking Lot 4 at Six Flags, in Upper Marlboro, for the purpose of operating a COVID -19 testing site.

Procurement Method: Emergency (Sole Source)

Term: Aug. 1, 2020 – Jan. 31, 2021 (original 6-month term), Feb. 1, 2021 – April 30, 2021 (renewal option 1) and May 1, 2021 – July 31, 2021 (renewal option 2)

Fund Source: 100% Federal (CARES Act)

Reason for Lateness: “The continued efforts to ensure the State’s property needs are met, both on a regular and emergent basis, delayed the filing of this report.”

Item A5:

A $3,544,400 contract with Integrated Cellular and Molecular Diagnostics for COVID-19 test processing, including collection kits, courier services and communication of results through patient and provider portals.

Procurement Method: Emergency (Retroactive)

Contract Award Date: March 15, 2021

Term: Jan. 1, 2021 – Dec. 31, 2021

Fund Source: 100% Federal

Item A6:

A $19.1 million Maryland Department of Health contract with University of Maryland Pathology Associates, P.A. (UMPA) for COVID-19 testing services, including collection kits courier services, and reporting of results.

Procurement Method: Emergency (Retroactive)

Term: May 1, 2020 – April 30, 2021

Fund Source: 100% Federal

Reason for Late Report: “This report was submitted late due to the unprecedented number of emergency procurements which required immediate action. MDH is currently recruiting additional procurement staff. As a result, MDH was unable to prepare this report in a timely fashion.”

Item A7:

A $24.5 million renewal of the Maryland Department of Health’s contract with University of Maryland Pathology Associates (see above).

Procurement Method: Emergency Modification

Contract Award Date: Dec. 31, 2020

Original Contract Term: May 1, 2020 – April 30, 2021

Item A8:

A $259,200 Maryland Department of Health contract with Stratus Building Solutions for janitorial services at the Hagerstown Premium Outlets.

Procurement Method: Emergency

Contract Award Date: March 15, 2021

Term: March 25, 2021 – June 22, 2021

Item A9:

A $180,367 Maryland Department of Health contract with Community Support, LLC to provide janitorial services at the Regency Furniture Stadium mass vaccination site.

Procurement Method: Emergency

Contract Award Date: March 04, 2021

Term: March 8, 2021 – 06/06/2021

Item A10:

A $203,990 Maryland Department of Health contract with Chex, Inc d/b/a Anago Cleaning Services for janitorial services at the Six Flags mass vaccination site in Upper Marlboro.

Procurement Method: Emergency

Contract Award Date: February 20, 2021

Term: 03/11/2021 – 06/07/2021

Item A11:

A $341,280 Maryland Office of Procurement and Support Services contract with Tactical Security Solutions, Inc., for “unarmed and armed security guards” at the Regency Furniture Stadium mass vaccination site.

Procurement Method: Emergency

Contract Award Date: March 01, 2021

Term: 03/01/2021 – 05/30/2021

Item A12:

A $151,200 Maryland Department of Health contract with Eagle Protection Agency, LLC, for security at the mass vaccination site at the Wicomico Youth and Civic Center in Salisbury.

Procurement Method: Emergency

Contract Award Date: March 15, 2021

Term: March 15, 2021 – June 13, 2021

Fund Source: 100% Federal