In just a few hours, DC Council will hold a Committee of the Whole roundtable to discuss the “Contract No. DCHT-2012-C-0014 Approval Resolution of 2013,” which was proposed by Mayor Gray to approve a multi-year contract with Huron Consulting Services, a company chosen to implement turnaround operations at the United Medical Center. The city solicited bids to find a vendor to help streamline operations at UMC, which (according to some figures) loses approximately $13 million per year.
In winning this contract, Huron beat out several other teams in part due to its extensive expertise in turning around unprofitable hospitals. “If you need to turnaround a hospital, these are the guys to go to,” related one Wilson Building staffer. Notably, after the contrat was awarded to Huron, none of Huron’s competitors filed a protest during the Contract Appeals Board’s 10-day protest period.
Despite Huron being ranked the best company for the job and no protests being filed with the city’s Contract Appeals Board, two councilmembers are now attempting to derail final approval of the contract: Councilmember Vincent Orange and Councilmember Muriel Bowser.
Per the Home Rule Act, Council has final approval authority for these big-dollar contracts, even though there’s a separate and effective contract appeals process that evaluates contract protests on their merits. Wilson building sources tell us that most councilmembers support the contract award as-is to Huron Consulting, citing the company’s experience level and overall value. Even Marion Barry, who’s known for disapproving and holding up contracts on a whim, is reportedly in support of this contract award and the hospital is located in his ward.
Orange chairs the Committee on Business, Consumer, and Regulatory Affairs. Bowser is in charge of Economic Development. For a short time, the pair had a third councilmember on their side to assist in protesting the contract: Yyvette Alexander, chair of the Committee on Health. Curiously, Alexander backed out after a sudden change of heart and went so far as to file an approval resolution, opposing Orange’s position. With rules requiring three councilmembers to derail a contract and only two councilmembers now opposing the contract, Orange has been trying to rally colleauges in his favor, but is so far unsuccessful.
Although Orange sits on the Committee on Health, sources report that it’s not really a focus of his interest. “I’d be surprised if he has ever set foot in [United Medical Center],” remarked one person familiar with Council, and another independently echoed similar comments unprompted, making Orange’s sudden interest seem odd.
An article by Mike Debonis quoted Orange as stating the contract hold-up is due to Orange’s concern over the CBE process. Huron initially partnered with a local business it thought was a certified business enterprise, but later found out it wasn’t certified and swapped partners before the contract decision was made. Orange told DeBonis that losing bidders, including owners of competing CBEs, were allegedly “bent out of shape” and complained to Orange. (Meanwhile, a city staffer familiar with the process tell us that Orange is mistaken, and that the process followed applicable regualtions and the best company won fair and square.)
If a losing bidder feels slighted by the procurement protest, he has 10 days to file a protest with the city’s Contract Appeals Board, which then investigates the complaint on its merits determine if a contract is improper. In this case, no losing bidders filed a protest in the 10-day period. Instead, according to Orange’s quote in the Washington Post, an unnamed losing local business complained to him, prompting him to attempt to hold up the contract.
So why would Orange and Bowser protest the award of a contract that hasn’t been formally protested by the unwinning bidders, especially when it was awarded to the go-to guys for this sort of work? We’re not quite sure.
One of the losing bidders, local company Health 2 IT Business Solutions LLC, partnered with a larger company in its unsuccessful attempt to secure the UMC contract. In fact, HIT2BS president Dasarath Kiridena is scheduled to testify today before Council, presumably on why he feels the contract award to his competitor is improper. In addition, Council will hear from other notable witnesses, including the Director of the Office of Contracting and Procurement, Director of the Department of Healthcare Finance, and the Chairman of United Medical Center:
Curiously, a city staffer reports that Sean Metcalf, Orange’s former campaign manager, visited with the offices of at least four councilmembers other than Orange and Bowser, in an apparent attempt to convince them to side with Orange and favor a different local business than the one partnering with Huron. We have been unable to confirm that Metcalf is working for HIT2BS as a consultant, but he told Mike Debonis that he has ”as association” to a subcontractor to Navigant, a larger company who partnered with a local company to compete against Huron. A version of HIT2BS’s website shows two persons on their team: Ashanthi and Dasarath Kiridena:
A review of campaign finance records reveal that Orange and Bowser have received campaign donations from a business entity and persons affiliated with Heath IT 2 Business Solutions LLC (HIT2BS), a local certified business enterprise operated by Ashanthi and Dasarath Kiridena, who share an address with the local CBE. In the past several years, Ashanthi Kiridena and HIT2BS contributed a combined $3500 to Orange’s campaigns and $1000 to Bowser’s. In addition, records indicate a Sean Metcalf contributed a total of $1750 to Orange’s previous two campaigns.
We should note that the donations appear to follow the law and campaign finance rules, but it may shed some light into why only Bowser and Orange have thus far signed on to protest awarding UMC’s turnaround contract to the most qualified vendor. As stated previously, even Marion Barry- who has protested and held up more contracts than any other councilmember- supports this one, and the hospital is located in his ward.
We attempted to secure a comment from Councilmember Orange and HIT2BS’s president. Orange hasn’t replied. We asked HIT2BS’s Dasarath Kiridena for comment and information or confirmation concerning the contract and the alleged relationship with Orange’s former campaign director. He replied, “Sorry, I have no comments to your questions.” We were unable to reach Metcalf.
The whole mess is curious, at best. And Orange, who usually isn’t interested in health issues, protesting the contract based on a campaign donor feeling slighted enough to complain to him but not file a formal protest? That certainly raises some eyebrows, and raises questions about whether Council should have contract approval/disapproval authority at all.
It should also be noted that this whole thing is because the city isn’t happy that United Medical Center loses about $13 million per year and they want to make it more efficient by hiring an outside contractor to help. It’s certainly valid to wonder whether a city-run hospital should be expected to turn a profit, especially considering of the hospital’s unquantified overall benefit to citizens and the city’s medical infrastructure. At only $13 million/year, UMC provides emergency medical services at a relatively small cost to an area of DC that would not otherwise have such immediate access to healthcare.
Hopefully, today’s 3pm Council hearing will provide more information. We’ll be watching, and hope you will too. Tune in online at https://dccouncil.us/granicus.