Jason Mercier pores though a lot of government records so you don’t have to.
As director of the Center for Government Reform with the free-market Washington Policy Center, Mercier is especially interested in government contracting and looks through state government requests for bidders and attempts to award state contracts without using competitive bidding.
One of those sole-source contracts caught his attention last month. Gov. Chris Gregoire’s budget office wanted to hire the consulting firm GMMB Inc. for six months at a cost of $400,000. The mission would be to “develop a comprehensive communications plan” to “enhance Washington’s implementation of the Affordable Care Act and other health reform initiatives as identified by the governor’s policy office.”
The contract was posted by the state on June 21 and was to be issued by July 6. Under the state’s rules for noncompetitive contracts, other bidders had five days to tell the state how they could do the same work. While a few contacted the state, none made a formal offer.
Mercier raised some good questions about the contract on his blog at washingtonpolicy.org/blog. He wondered why the state would be picking a consultant before it knew what the U.S. Supreme Court would do to the Affordable Care Act.
“It wasn’t that it was a sole-source contract that caught my eye,” Mercier said. “It was the fact that it was a sole-source contract a week before we knew whether we’d even be marketing a health care plan.”
Office of Financial Management officials say the hurry was because federal money for the work would go away if it wasn’t committed by Aug. 31. Part of the cost also would be borne by a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
There was another question raised about the contract, though – a political one. The “G” in GMMB stands for Frank Greer, one of the nation’s top Democratic campaign and public affairs consultants. Greer lives part-time in Washington state, and the company has offices in Seattle and Washington, D.C. He has done extensive work for Washington Democrats, including serving as the media consultant for Gregoire’s 2004 campaign.
Republicans have tried to make an issue out of it, like with this Tweet from Randy Pepple, manager for Rob McKenna’s campaign for governor:
Nice thank you from WA state govt to @jayinslee advisor Frank Greer – $400k to “communicate” – guess state doesn’t have other priorities
Greer isn’t doing any work for Inslee’s Democratic campaign for governor. At least not so far. But GMMB is involved with an independent expenditure campaign called Our Washington that has been attacking McKenna and has reserved more than $3 million in local TV ad time for the fall campaign.
OFM officials deny political favoritism was involved. Greer isn’t likely to be directly involved in the OFM contract. And the firm has already done work helping set up the Washington Health Benefit Exchange. This is the entity triggered by the ACA that will give people a virtual marketplace to compare and purchase individual health insurance coverage.
“Because of its recent experiences with the HBE, and leveraging work with other states, GMMB is able to meet demands under an aggressive project timeline, and do it quickly and cost effectively,” OFM’s proposal states.
The proposed sole-source OFM contract is separate from the previous work done for the benefit exchange under a contract awarded after a competitive process. But the fact that Greer’s company has already been involved in other aspects of the Affordable Care Act made the firm a likely choice for the new work.
“GMMB had the best presentation and had been working in other states on exchanges,” said health exchange spokesman Michael Marchand. The proposed OFM work may be on the same topic but covers more ground than the work done under the health exchange contract.
The OFM contract “is for getting people to understand all aspects of ACA,” Marchand said. “That’s a much larger undertaking than ‘the Washington exchange is open and you can get insurance here.’”
But the questions raised by Mercier and others have caused the state to change course. Rather than grant a sole-source contract to Greer’s firm, it will now use a more competitive process that is open to other potential contractors.
“Enough questions were raised and they wanted it to be beyond reproach,” said OFM spokesman Ralph Thomas.
Mercier said GMMB may still get the contract. But at least now it will be done after a transparent firstname.lastname@example.org 253-597-8657 blog.thenewstribune.com/politics @CallaghanPeter