THE D.C. Council has rejected a Tennessee company’s bid to provide health care at the city’s jail, but the real losers are D.C. citizens. Once again, politics and influence were allowed to corrupt the professional procurement process that should determine who gets the District’s business. What’s most depressing — no, maddening — is that those responsible for this travesty include the very council members who campaigned on a promise of good government, including non-interference in contracts.
In a 6-to-5 vote Tuesday, the council nullified the outcome of a competitive bidding process conducted by procurement specialists over 18 months under two mayoral administrations. The specialists had awarded a $66.1 million, three-year contract to Corizon Health Inc., the nation’s largest provider of health care in prisons and jails. The vote capped an adroit lobbying campaign orchestrated by Unity Health Care, the losing bidder, which has provided health services since 2006 and which will now continue operations on a costly month-to-month basis until the city figures out its next step. This will cost the District an extra $2.4 million a year and means that the expanded mental health services outlined in the contract with Corizon won’t be forthcoming.
That the council saw no problem in undermining a fair bidding process is in keeping with the city’s sad history of contracting and influence-peddling; remember, for example, the 2009 lottery contract, about which there are still unanswered questions. It was particularly galling, though, that council members who have professed support for contract reform showed so little compunction in thumbing their nose at the results of this procurement. David Grosso (I-At Large), Elissa Silverman (I-At Large), Brianne K. Nadeau (D-Ward 1) and Charles Allen (D-Ward 6) all signed on to legislation that would eliminate council review of contracts, but they joined Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) and Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3) in denying the contract to Corizon. We guess it’s easier to give lip service to respecting the process than actually respecting it.
It is unclear what will happen next. Rebidding the contract would seem to be a waste of time, since the council made it pretty clear that it is not at all interested in the judgment of procurement specialists, health care professionals and corrections officials. It’s also hard to imagine any company wanting to go through the time and expense of competing for a contract when it’s pretty clear that a bias for Unity exists. Disgusted council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) said the city should just drop the charade and give its business to Unity since that’s the politically driven goal. We don’t know if such an abdication is the right move, but Mr. Evans was absolutely correct when he called the situation “ridiculous.”