Florida is in the crosshairs of two brewing storms. On the one hand hurricane season is already threatening (thanks Alberto), and on the other is the political storm of election season (thanks, Rick and Bill). Now those two are crashing together – and it seems like something the people of Florida, and for sure the Rick Scott campaign, could really do without.
Last month I wrote about a questionable contract process involving Florida’s disaster recovery from previous storms. The state hired a consultant to help develop an action plan for an Invitation to Negotiate, and now that same company wants to win the contract. That seems like it would have a pretty huge unfair advantage, since it helped create the contract it now wants to “compete” for.
And now we learn that the same consultant, Horne LLP, is also embroiled in a major controversy in West Virginia, where it’s accused by top officials of shenanigans that sound eerily similar to what’s going on in Florida.
A federal audit of a relief program found that West Virginia had received about $150 million after 2016 flooding, but Horne had only distributed about $1.14 million of it. Horne’s contract with the state mysteriously mushroomed from $900,000 to $17 million – apparently without any proper oversight by the top state officials. So now West Virginia’s Senate President and House Speaker have asked a joint committee to investigate. Meanwhile, the state Attorney General is also investigating, the governor has put the contract on hold, and the second-in-command at the agency administering the contract is now gone (he and the state differ on whether he was actually fired).
Tell me if this sounds familiar: Horne was hired as a consultant, and next it has a lucrative contract involving the project it was consulting on. On top of everything else wrong with this, it seems the company isn’t actually doing the work it was hired to do. The victims in all this, of course, are the residents whose lives were devastated by the flooding two years ago, and all the taxpayers of West Virginia.
You have to wonder if this is a pattern and now it’s Florida’s turn. Horne created the plan on which the state’s procurement is based, potentially with friendly provisions for itself, and now it wants the larger and more lucrative job. With a deal like that, how can it lose, when it knows exactly what the state is looking for in the contract – because it helped write the thing?
The Department of Economic Opportunity, who has issued the procurement, appropriately responded and fixed several issues with the original ITN, but what appears to me as a glaring conflict of interest remains.
Florida taxpayers deserve to know their money is being spent fairly and well, but we can’t be confident that’s happening here. Rule #1 for state agencies when the boss is running for higher office is the same creed doctors live by: Do no harm. It’s hard to see how the Scott Administration – or the Scott for Senate campaign – can possibly think that even the appearance of an inside deal won’t prove to be politically problematic.