State company once more pledges to keep away from no-bid contracts

Randy Ludlow The Columbus Dispatch

The Ohio Department of Administrative Services is again pledging to clean up its act after being blasted by Ohio‘s inspector general for handing out millions of dollars in overpriced, unbid contracts to favored information-technology consultants.

Agency Director Robert Blair responded on Friday to recommendations made by the office of Inspector General Randall J. Meyer in the wake of a Dec. 18 report finding that information-technology officials sidestepped the best possible deal for taxpayers in awarding no-bid contracts while also creating “opportunities for abusive and potentially fraudulent activity.”

The inspector general‘s report confirmed a seven-month investigation by The Dispatch that found $12 milion in unbid, $200-plus-an-hour contracts were routed for years to certain consulting firms over the protest of Administrative Services purchasing analysts.

A report by outside investigators hired by Meyer’s office said the agency ducked “any consideration in obtaining (the) fair and best cost for the benefit” of taxpayers by handing poorly justified, unbid contracts to Columbus-based Advocate Solutions, which employed several former state Administrative Services IT officials, and Stonyhurst Consulting of Middleburg, Virginia.

Meyer had asked Blair to consider revamping state contracting policies to ensure fair and transparent contracting while taking steps to ensure the integrity of state purchasing.

In his response, Blair again wrote that IT officials no longer can directly make purchases for services and goods and that a minimum of three quotes now are required before awarding s, with all no-bid contracts being submitted to the state Controlling Board for approval by lawmakers. The changes were enacted after The Dispatch‘s stories.

Administrative Services “strongly believes in the need to improve its policies and procedures when issues are identified,” Blair wrote. “We made significant changes …” The agency also is working with the office of Auditor Dave Yost to improve its purchasing practices, the director said. Yost‘s office also was investigating the unbid contracts, but has not yet issued a report.

Blair said his agency is responding to Meyer‘s recommendations for change by taking several steps to ensure “that all competitive procurements must be fair, open, and transparent.” One of the changes may include establishing “a reasonable range for labor rates” to ensure cost consistency in awarding contracts, he said.

No Administrative Services employees have been disciplined as a result of Meyer‘s Dec. 18 report.

In a separate report late last year, Meyer concluded that Stuart Davis, the highest-ranking information technology official at the state agency, may have violated ethics laws in soliciting $37,000 from a state contractor to sponsor his speech at an information technology conference in 2013 in Cincinnati.

Blair disciplined Davis earlier this month by placing a letter of reprimand in his personnel file after Meyer’s report recommended a determination if administrative action against Davis was warranted.

“While you may not have been seeking personal monetary benefit, your correspondence could be misinterpreted and create the wrong perception,” Blair wrote to Davis. “You exercised poor judgment in this matter by failing to take every effort to avoid even the appearance of impropriety.”



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