Florida won’t say how much Deloitte bid on disputed $135 million contract

The state is asking Deloitte and its competitors to get a judge to say their bid amounts are not a public record.
Agency for Health Care Administration
Agency for Health Care Administration [ Agency for Health Care Administration ]
Published Aug. 24, 2020

TALLAHASSEE — Florida officials are refusing to say how much Deloitte Consulting bid on a potential $135 million contract to handle the state’s Medicaid data, claiming the company believes the information is a “trade secret” and not releasable under the state’s public records law.

Florida’s Agency for Health Care Administration is now asking Deloitte and its four competitors to get a judge to say why their bid amounts should not be considered public records. If the companies want to avoid the legal route, they could remove their claim that the information is a trade secret and allow the release of the information.

“The Agency wants and intends to release all documents absent valid confidentiality,” Fred Piccolo, spokesman for Gov. Ron DeSantis, said in a statement. “(The Agency for Health Care Administration) encourages all parties to seek judicial review quickly.”

The statement came after the agency, and a law firm the agency hired, refused to release the amount of each company’s bid in response to public records requests by the Times/Herald. They also refused to release the amounts when contacted by a Tampa Bay Times lawyer last week.

The idea that the amount of each company’s bid is not a public record under state law is “absolutely ridiculous,” according to Pamela Marsh, president of the First Amendment Foundation, which advocates for open government. (The Tampa Bay Times and Miami Herald are members of the nonprofit.)

“This is outrageous,” Marsh said. “This is a serious abuse of the public records law.”

The agency decided to award a nine-figure contract to Deloitte earlier this month despite one of the company’s other state projects, the CONNECT unemployment system, melting down during the pandemic, leaving millions of Floridians unable to file or collect unemployment claims.

DeSantis has blasted Deloitte, ordering an investigation into the company’s CONNECT contract and saying Deloitte shouldn’t win any more work.

The only reason Deloitte won, he said, is because the company dramatically lowered its bid and undercut its top competitor, Accenture.

“I think what happened is, they dropped the price by so much that under the current law, or however they make those decisions, their hands were tied,” DeSantis said.

The claim is impossible to verify because the state has not released Deloitte’s initial or final bids, or the bids of its competitors.

Two of Deloitte’s competitors, the corporate giants Accenture and IBM, have filed protests against the state’s decision, temporarily stopping the state from signing the deal with Deloitte. Accenture claims the state downplayed Deloitte’s history with the unemployment system, and IBM claims it lost potentially dozens of points because one of the state’s evaluators didn’t have their bid.

Florida has routinely released bid amounts for major projects. The details on decade-old bids to overhaul the state’s unemployment system are readily online, for example. And in other projects, the state has refused to accept bids from companies that claim their total bid amount is a trade secret.

The state chose not to include that prohibition when taking bids for the Medicaid data project, which was advertised last year.

Earlier this month, a Jacksonville circuit judge ruled on the confidentiality of trade secrets after NextEra Energy claimed its entire bid to buy the city’s electric utility wasn’t public record. Circuit Court Judge Virginia Norton said the amount could not be kept secret.

State law allows companies to claim details are a “trade secret” to avoid having them released under the state’s public records law. A public employee could face felony charges for releasing information companies claim is “trade secret.”

State law also says that bids become public information upon the state announcing the winning bidder. That happened Aug. 3, when the Agency for Health Care Administration announced Deloitte was the winner of a potential $135 million contract to overhaul the state’s Medicaid data.

Attorney Linda Norbut, representing the Tampa Bay Times, cited that statute to attorneys representing the Agency for Health Care Administration last week. The agency hired an outside law firm to handle records requests. Acting on behalf of state officials, it refused to turn over a variety of records the Times/Herald requested, including bid amounts.

Sen. Linda Stewart, D-Orlando, has also made multiple records requests on the bidding process. She has yet to get any information back. Considering the uproar over the Deloitte contract, and the lack of transparency around it, Stewart said she can only conclude that the bidding process was “compromised.”

“What other conclusion can I come to?” Stewart said.