NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – Lawmakers are calling for an investigation into no-bid contracts by Governor Bill Lee’s administration. Handing out millions of dollars to companies with little to no experience or evidence the business can perform the tasks asked of them.
Emergency powers give the governor the ability to suspend financial safeguards when approving contracts, but some say it’s being abused. From giving a Republican lawmaker’s furniture store $165,000 for hospital gowns that were eventually canceled; to agreeing to a $75 million dollar contract with Xtend Healthcare, charged with doing contact tracing, despite being a medical billing company with no epidemiology experience.
There’s growing frustration and struggle for oversight among lawmakers, like Sen. Heidi Campbell (D-Nashville), of spending coming out of the executive branch. “I think that where there’s smoke you worry that there’s fire.”
She now wants Nashville’s District Attorney Glenn Funk to investigate. “We just need to make sure that everybody is doing what they’re supposed to do because it’s our responsibility to make sure that our money and our programs are being held fiscally responsible,” Campbell said.
On Thursday, Funk signaled he will seek an investigation of the spending. “I’m currently deciding which office or agency can best assist me in conducting this audit and the audit findings will be made public,” Funk said.
A $26.5 million contract was awarded for Nomi Healthcare, a Utah-based company, but was terminated with a $6 million buyout from taxpayers to the company. They were charged to provide PPE and COVID tests without prior experience.
“Of course we understand that, you know, in a pandemic and with emergency rules that there are going to be some situations where you need to do that. What’s problematic is that a lot of the people that have gotten these contracts have had no experience,” Campbell said.
But the questionable contracts don’t end there. Pale Horse Global, a small security company received a $13.5 million contract for PPE. Renfro Corp was paid $8.3 million for defective sock masks out of North Carolina.
And lawmakers approved an additional $8 million totaling $16 million for a New York-based literacy training program where Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn’s husband works.
Governor Lee’s office did not respond to questions about the potential investigation. Schwinn’s office also did not respond to questions on Thursday. On Friday afternoon, though, the Education Commissioner’s office did issue the following statement:
“The department and the commissioner adhere to all state laws and policies governing procurement, including Policy 2013-009.
Commissioner Schwinn filed conflict of interest with the state’s Central Procurement Office (CPO) for this procurement out of an abundance of caution. Attached, please find a letter from CPO’s Chief Procurement Officer Mike Perry indicating the commissioner’s conflict of interest mitigation plan “adequately addresses any conflicts of interest or potential conflicts of interest that may arise during the pendency of the solicitation.”
There were two responsive bids that included all the required components, and TNTP was lower in cost. The Central Procurement Office scored the bids, and TDOE staff members, excluding Commissioner Schwinn, scored the technical responses. Each member of the department that participated in scoring sent their technical response scores back to CPO individually. CPO then compiled them, added their cost, and informed the department who won.”