Senate Dems question lack of transparency in DHHS contracting
Breen and Haskell: Seemingly unnecessary sole-source contract is troubling
AUGUSTA — Senate Democrats are asking questions about why Gov. Paul LePage’s administration gave control of a critical state program for infants to a third-party without a competitive bidding process and without availing itself of the checks and balances built in to the state procurement protocol.
A report in Thursday’s Bangor Daily News described how the administration had “quietly handed off financial oversight” of Maine Families, a $23 million program that provides home visitations to new parents. By working with parents, home visitors have successfully reduced abuse and neglect and improved health for thousands of infants and families.
The report said DHHS awarded the contract after “a closed decision-making process, the state’s questionable justification to avoid competitive bidding, and limited communication about the transfer of a multimillion-dollar state program to the nonprofit sector.”
“The administration has always said the competitive bidding process makes state contractors more accountable and protects taxpayer dollars. I agree, which is why I’m at a loss for why this contract was handled behind closed doors and without seeking bids,” said Sen. Cathy Breen, D-Falmouth. “The Legislature needs to take a look at state procurement rules. We need to know that transparency and accountability are baked into the process.”
Maine Families had been administered by a collection of groups across the state for years, with financial oversight maintained by the state. However, in April, Gov. LePage and his health commissioner, Mary Mayhew, signed away the program without a competitive bid or public input. The deal was also made without consultation with the state Attorney General — a procedural safeguard in the procurement process — thanks to an executive order signed by Gov. LePage making that safeguard “optional.”
The report described how even board members of Maine Children’s Trust, the nonprofit awarded the sole-source contract, had questions and misgivings about the scope of its new work, the process by which it was awarded, and the effect it could have on the board’s independent advocacy for Maine children.
“Sole-source contracts are a necessary part of government in the case of an emergency, but I can’t for the life of me see what caused the urgent need for the state to give up its role in ensuring this program’s success,” said Sen. Anne Haskell, D-Portland. “The facts presented in this report are troubling. As a member of the Health and Human Services Committee, I would welcome an explanation from the administration.”