Governor wants more oversight over high stakes contracts
In Florida’s high-stakes world of government contracting, Connected Nation learned how to play the game.
The nonprofit Kentucky-based company was formed to expand the reach of broadband to underserved areas throughout the country. In 2009, the company submitted the high bid and won a $3.9 million contract to map broadband in Florida using federal stimulus funds.
But after two years and a new administration, state officials decided last fall that they could reduce the cost of the program and improve service if they let Connected Nation’s contract expire in December and opened the process to other bidders.
It wasn’t so easy. Bids were sought and negotiations started, but with Department of Management Services officials unhappy with Connected Nation’s performance, the company did what has become commonplace in Tallahassee: it cranked its powerful lobbying team into gear and turned to the Legislature.
The result: The Legislature passed and the governor signed a bill to move management of the broadband mapping contract from DMS to the new Department of Economic Opportunity, effective July 1. Connected Nation slashed its price in half and emerged as one of the top three bidders. Contract negotiations are on hold until the agency transfer takes place.
Rep. Alan Williams, a Tallahassee Democrat and vocal opponent to the contract transfer, says the Connected Nation example underscores what many in Tallahassee have come to expect: getting state work depends as much on who you know as how much you charge.
“Is this a favor to Connected Nation and a lobbyist or is this really good government?’’ he asked. “Is this really being accountable and efficient to the state of Florida the way the governor wants to be?”
Every year, nearly $51 billion or about 57 percent of the state budget is spent on contracts and agreements for goods and services, according to Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater. He sought legislation in the 2012 session that would have shifted oversight of the contracting process to his office, forcing a political distance between the bulk of state contracts, which are under the governor’s purview.
The bill died and instead Gov. Rick Scott anointed David Wilkins, secretary of the Department of Children and Families, his new contract-reviewer-in-chief.
Wilkins, a 29-year executive at the giant management and technology services company Accenture, knows how private companies can outmaneuver the state because he’s been there. He managed million-dollar contracts between his company, other states, the federal government and other nations.
“Florida is no worse than other states,’’ Wilkins said. “It’s different because it may have more volume than most.” More here.