TALLAHASSEE — Two weeks before Gov. Rick Scott took office, the Florida prison system fired a Pasco County company that has tracked sex offenders for more than a decade and replaced it with one from Colorado.
The rejected vendor, Pro Tech Monitoring of Odessa, is protesting the decision with the help of political pressure from local legislators, and is using Scott's top priority — creating jobs — to press its case.
"Florida is one of our major contracts," said Pro Tech chief executive Steve Chapin, whose firm employs 135 people. "If we lose this contract to an out-of-state company, it's inevitable our work force will reduce."
At stake is a three-year, $25 million pact to electronically monitor about 2,700 sex offenders and other criminals through Global Positioning Systems. The offenders, considered dangerous, are under house arrest 24 hours a day, supervised by the Department of Corrections through the contract.
Pro Tech was underbid by BI Inc. (Behavioral Interventions), based in Boulder, Colo., which offered to charge the state $3 for each tracking device, compared with Pro Tech's $5.50.
But cost accounted for only about one-third of the evaluation process, and Pro Tech outpaced BI in other aspects of the evaluation.
So Pro Tech filed a complaint seeking a formal hearing before an administrative hearing officer.
In its protest, Pro Tech accused BI of "low-balling" the state on price "to mask its technical deficiencies," such as its reliance on a call center in Indiana. Pro Tech's call centers are in Odessa and Jacksonville.
The firm's protest also accused the prison system of not requiring BI to file a disaster recovery plan.
In October, BI's tracking system failed for an 11-hour period, resulting in a temporary failure to track about 16,000 offenders across the country. The company blamed a data storage limit for the breakdown.
BI issued a statement Wednesday saying, "This was an open and proper procurement process. … We are confident in our proposal and our ability to provide quality GPS tracking services at a competitive price."
Scott has said he wants to cut $1 billion in prison spending, but he also has made creating jobs the centerpiece of his agenda as governor.
Asked Wednesday if the state should give preference to Florida-based firms, the governor said: "It's never as simple as that. But everything I can be doing as governor to help Florida companies and Florida employees, I'm going to do."
Within days of securing the Florida contract, BI announced it was being sold to the GEO Group, a Boca Raton firm that is one of the nation's largest operators of private prisons.
The firm contributed $25,000 to Scott's inaugural celebration last month.
Pro Tech was founded in 1995 by a group of investors that included former Gov. Bob Martinez and his brother, Alan. The firm has contributed $7,500 to Florida candidates since 2002.
Pasco County legislators are taking up Pro Tech's cause and accuse the prison system of putting public safety at risk to save money.
"While we all recognize that these are trying fiscal times for the state and saving taxpayer money is important, cheaper does not always result in the best value," Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, wrote in a lengthy letter last week to Corrections Secretary Walter McNeil. "Selecting the cheapest vendor can result in operational failures, implementation complications and inferior performance."
Fasano is chairman of the Pasco legislative delegation and chairs a Senate budget subcommittee that oversees prison spending.
In a response, McNeil defended the decision to hire BI as fair and having "complied with the dictates of the law."
Times/Herald staff writer Katie Sanders contributed to this report. Steve Bousquet can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (850) 224-7263.