Utah Lawmakers Criticize No-Bid COVID-19 Emergency Contracts During Legislative Hearing
Utah state lawmakers questioned whether emergency, no-bid contracts the state entered into at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic were the best use of taxpayer dollars during a legislative hearing Tuesday. They also asked state officials if some of those contracts are still necessary.
Rep. Andrew Stoddard, D-Sandy, criticized the multimillion dollar contract with New York-based tech company Twenty for a contact tracing app called Healthy Together. In early July, the state turned off the location tracking feature because it wasn’t popular among users.
Stoddard pressed Phil Dean, the interim executive director of the Governor’s Office of Management and Budget, about the contract.
“Now we have an app that doesn't do the main portion of what it's supposed to do, but we're still paying,” Stoddard said. “Was there consideration for breaking these contracts or renegotiating them?”
The Healthy Together contract includes monthly fees of at least $300,000 for “maintenance and support.”
Dean acknowledged there were “changes from what were originally anticipated” and that there are “ongoing discussions” about the contract.
The state has also spent millions on a contract with startup Nomi Health for COVID-19 testing initiative TestUtah, in addition to the Healthy Together contract. Rep. Suzanne Harrison, D-Draper, said that wasn’t the right move.
“I think there are multiple contracts, many of which are kind of duplicative and knee jerk in terms of dashboards and surveys and so forth,” Harrison said. “I think it would have been a wiser use of taxpayer dollars to invest in existing public health infrastructure and at a bare minimum consult with experts from the Department of Health before entering into no bid contracts.”
A legislative audit found that the Utah Department of Health should have been consulted earlier on in the contract negotiations with Twenty and Nomi Health.
The state is no longer operating under emergency procurement procedures which allow for no-bid contracts.