The Department of Children & Families awarded a $21 million contract to upgrade the state’s troubled child welfare computer system to a company whose board of directors included the former governor of Oklahoma — the man who recommended Secretary Jerry Regier to Gov. Jeb Bush.
The company, AMS Inc., submitted neither the lowest nor the best bid for the contract, according to the DCF’s initial tabulations. But a second tabulation — which included several ”intangibles” such as the agency’s ”confidence” in the team — concluded AMS was the best bidder.
Now, the company whose proposal originally was ranked the best, CIBER, Inc., is appealing the decision — a process that could prove costly to taxpayers. In a June 4 letter to a DCF attorney, a CIBER attorney called the contract award “unprecedented and unlawful.”
In a letter to the agency Wednesday, CIBER’s attorney asked the department to refer the company’s protest to the state Division of Administrative Hearings, where the matter could be resolved by an administrative law judge.
”It smells fishy,” said state Rep. Kenneth A. Gottlieb, a Miramar Democrat on the Human Services Appropriations subcommittee. “There’s been nothing throughout the entire process that leads me to believe they are going to move in the right direction when it comes to fixing [the computer] or any other problems we have at DCF.”
HomeSafenet, as the computer system is called, has been a disaster virtually since its inception. Five years behind schedule and considerably more than $100 million over budget, the child-tracking system has never been fully implemented, and regularly goes on the fritz.
”Delays in getting the system fixed affect the protection of the children in the child welfare system,” said Rep. Nan Rich, a Weston Democrat who sits on the House’s Future of Florida’s Families Committee.
DCF officials declined to discuss the contract controversy in detail.
‘Due to the complexity and technical requirements in the HomeSafenet procurement, the department appointed a `best and final’ negotiation team to choose a vendor,” spokesman Bill Spann said. That team chose AMS.
Spann said Regier, who joined the department in August 2002 after serving as a Cabinet secretary for Health and Human Services in Oklahoma, was not aware Keating had been on AMS’ board of directors. In 2002, Bush told reporters he considered Regier for the DCF chief’s job at the recommendation of Keating.
”The secretary never discussed the award, or the process, with Frank Keating,” Spann said.
AMS merged with CGI Group Inc., a Montreal-based company with U.S. headquarters in Fairfax, Va., in May, a month after the contract was awarded.
When AMS became a subsidiary of CGI, Keating was no longer on the company’s board of directors.
Officials at CGI-AMS, as the group is now called, declined to comment in detail.
”We are aware that this is going on. We are monitoring it, and we are cooperating with the process,” said Eileen Murphy, a spokeswoman.
Last year, DCF published a ”request for quotes” to identify a company willing to complete upgrades to HomeSafenet, which provides information to 6,000 child welfare investigators, caseworkers and administrators throughout Florida.
The upgrades were expected to be completed next year.
DCF received three proposals, from AMS, CIBER, and Unisys.
Agency records show CIBER was ”rated best and highest” among the three proposals in an initial ranking. CIBER’s proposal was $4.5 million lower than any of the other proposals, the company contends in a May letter to DCF.
However, administrators reevaluated the proposals under a second ranking system, called “Best and Final Offer.”
The new ranking placed AMS at the top, based largely on seven “intangibles.”
The intangibles included the company and staff’s experience developing child welfare computers, DCF’s ”confidence” in the project management team, and ”demonstration of commitment” to the project. For every category of intangibles except one, AMS ”exceeded” expectations while CIBER only ”met” them.
DCF awarded the contract to AMS April 13.
In a protest letter, CIBER officials questioned why AMS was given glowing reviews for their child welfare computer experience when a similar contract in Illinois was ”terminated,” and the company ”failed” in its attempt to develop a similar project in Georgia.
”CIBER’s review of the evaluation summary provided by the department indicates that the spreadsheet is more of an effort to justify a desired result than a fair and objective balancing of the respective proposals,” CIBER’s attorney, J. Stephen Menton, wrote in a May 19 letter.
DCF has defended its procurement process. Its general counsel, Josefina Tamayo, wrote in a letter to CIBER’s attorney: “Permit us to assure you and your client that the department is committed to conducting procurements that are fair, transparent and compliant with law.”
CAROL MARBIN MILLER – Copyright 2004 Knight Ridder