The Pennsylvania Senate recently introduced 10 bills aimed at reforming state government. Senate Bill 102, sponsored by Majority Whip Jane Orie, R-40th, of Allegheny County, deals with how no-bid state contracts are awarded. The proposed legislation would eliminate no-bid contracts for consulting services, including legal and bond work, instead requiring an open bid process.
Secretive no-bid contracts doled out under the administration of Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, D, have come under intense scrutiny by legislators, grassroots organizations and the media. This is largely due to the frequency and high-dollar amount of contracts being awarded to the governor’s close friends and political contributors, including Mr. Rendell’s former law firm, Ballard Spahr.
A similar bill reform bill passed the senate 50-0 during the last legislative session, but languished in the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives.
The Bulletin discussed the proposed no-bid contract legislation with Gov Rendell’s Press Secretary Chuck Ardo.
The Bulletin: If the legislation reforming no-bid contracts were to make it to the governor’s desk, do you think he would sign it?
Chuck Ardo: He is not likely to sign it.
TB: What would be the rationale?
CA: Well, for instance, take professional contracts. You wouldn’t want to hire a surgeon by determining the lowest bidder. You’d want to find the most qualified surgeon for the procedure. The same is true for lawyers and other professional services providers.
Also, sole-source contracts have saved the commonwealth significant money over the last several years. There is political gain to be had by advocating the end of sole-source contracts, but that’s not necessarily in the best interest of the commonwealth or its people.
TB: Would the governor be in favor of no-bid contracts that had a capped amount, such as $100,000?
CA: The problem is that some legal proceedings could require significant investment by the commonwealth. You want the best representation possible, not necessarily by those who submitted the lowest bid.
TB: In that regard, caps or not, would the governor be in favor of no-bid contracts being either approved or rejected by the state attorney general?
CA: We’ll have to see what the specifics of the legislation might be. It’s hard to answer a hypothetical question like that until we know exactly what the language requires.
TB: Many eyebrows were raised when Ballard Spahr performed $773,000 of legal work for the turnpike privatization initiative — with no contract. No-bid contracts are one thing, but how does the governor address this "no-contract" type of situation? How was the turnpike lease issue "urgent"?
(With no contract in place, Ballard was required to sign a "Compromise, Settlement and Release" to get retroactively compensated.)
CA: The needs that the turnpike lease was meant to address were urgent, and continue to be urgent. There is very little doubt about the urgency of transportation funding needs.
TB: But was it urgent to the point where Ballard billed 2,300 hours over 84 days, utilizing 55 attorneys? Could the firm not have taken the necessary time to execute a no-bid contract?
CA: I think that everybody was relatively assured that a contract could be worked out.
TB: Not to seem like we are beating a dead horse, but…
CA: You choose Ballard Spahr, but there are lots of law firms that have done work for the commonwealth. There are law firms across the width and breadth of the state that have various relationships, which provide such services.
TB: Many people have inquired about a comparison of no-bid contracts between the Rendell and past administrations. But it has been reported that such records were "lost" during a computer transition. Is there any update on the lost records? Is there any possibility the records might be found?
CA: I didn’t know they were lost. Let me find out.
Chris Freind can be reached at [email protected]