Some things never change when it comes to doing business with the State of Louisiana.
Several business owners have, over the past couple of years, told LouisianaVoice they would never bid on a state contract because, they said, the bid process and contracts are rigged, or at least weighted, heavily in favor of pre-selected vendors.
Now, three separate sources have come forward to offer specifics that support that claim as it regards a request for proposals (RFP) for renewal of an existing $75 million contract.
One of our very first stories under the LouisianaVoice banner was the manner in which Gov. Bobby Jindal went about privatizing his very first state agency, the Office of Risk Management (ORM), throwing nearly 100 employees out of work in the process.
Now we learn the story of F.A. Richard & Associates (FARA), the Mandeville company the state initially paid $68 million to take over as third party administrator (TPA) of ORM has taken yet another interesting twist.
Well, make that two interesting twists—including a third violation of the original contract between the Division of Administration (DOA) and FARA and now it seems there may be a strong case made for bid manipulation on the part of the state.
The reason we said the state initially paid $68 million is because eight months after that 2011 takeover, FARA was back asking—and getting—an amendment to its contract which boosted the contract amount by exactly 10 percent, or $6.8 million, bringing the total cost to just a tad under $75 million. An obscure state regulation allowed a one-time amendment to contracts for up to (drum roll, please)…10 percent.
Then, less than a month after the contract was amended by that $6.8 million, FARA sold its state contract to Avizent, an Ohio company, which kept the contract for about four months before it sold out to York Risk Services Group of Parsippany, New Jersey.
Last month, it was announced that Onex Corp., a Toronto-based private equity firm, had finalized a deal to acquire York for $1.325 billion.
In each case, the name FARA was retained “for branding purposes,” according to one former FARA employee, but there was no getting around the fact that the state’s contract was—and is—being shifted from one company to another until the latest deal that placed in the possession of a foreign corporation.
The original contract with FARA stipulates that the contract may not be sold, transferred or re-assigned without “prior written authority” from DOA.
LouisianaVoice, of course, made the appropriate public records request for that “prior written authority” right after it was sold the first time—to Avizent. After the usual delays in responding, DOA finally sent us an email which said no such document existed.
So, now we a contract the very specific terms of which have openly violated not once, not twice, but three times and the state has remained silent on this point.
Jindal, in case you need a reminder, is the same Louisiana governor who only last Friday criticized President Obama of “flaunting the law” in his executive action granting amnesty to illegal immigrants.
But as bad as the contract shuffling might be, ongoing efforts to rig the bidding process for a renewal of the five-year contract in FARA’s favor would appear to be far more serious.
Three separate sources—one employed by DOA and the other two former employees of first ORM and, after ORM was privatized, FARA, said that FARA had been requested to assist in drafting a new RFP in such a way as to guarantee that FARA would retain the contract.
Both former FARA employees, interviewed separately, said a staff meeting of FARA employees was held in Lafayette last April and again in May. On both occasions, they said, FARA management assured them that the company had been asked to assist ORM in drafting the RFP and that FARA was certain to win renewal of the contract, which expires next July 1.
“We were all told to update our resumés so they could be used in beefing up FARA’s proposal,” said one of the former employees.
If true, that would constitute bid rigging in almost any law book and should prompt an immediate investigation. This would be an ideal opportunity for someone to awaken East Baton Rouge District Attorney Hillar Moore to see if he is up to performing his duties.
Wasn’t that, after all, the basis for the investigation of Bruce Greenstein and the $189 million contract to his former employer, CNSI? That was the investigation that led to his nine-count indictment for perjury.
Having said that, if there are any other business owners who have had unpleasant experiences in bidding on state contracts, or who feel they have been shut out of the process through favoritism we would love to hear from you. Our email address is: firstname.lastname@example.org.