MBTA Could Not Prove 2017 Contract Was Awarded Fairly, Massachusetts Inspector General Says

Printed from: https://newbostonpost.com/2023/12/29/mbta-could-not-prove-2017-contract-was-awarded-fairly-massachusetts-inspector-general-says/

By Alison Kuznitz
State House News Service

Knocking the agency for slipshod record-keeping and potentially running afoul of its own procurement rules, the state’s inspector general said the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority could not prove its award of a private police dispatch contract was “free from favoritism.”

Inspector General Jeffrey Shapiro published a new report Wednesday, December 27 raising concerns about the way the T handed out a five-year, $4.8 million contract to IXP Corporation in 2017, writing that the public transit agency “could not demonstrate that its solicitation and advertising process was fair and competitive.” Shapiro’s report also says that one email exchange between T officials and IXP Corporation should have disqualified the bid altogether.

Shapiro’s latest findings build on a report his office released in December 2022 examining the IXP contract, this time zeroing in on the fairness and competitiveness of the procurement process that led to the deal.

“Based upon our investigation, significant concerns were raised regarding whether or not the selection process was fair; furthering that concern, the MBTA’s poor recordkeeping and records retention practices meant that the authority could not conclusively demonstrate that its selection of IXP was free from favoritism,” Shapiro said. “That is not acceptable.”

The MBTA published a request for proposals seeking police dispatch services in 2016, according to the report from the Inspector General’s Internal Special Audit Unit. At that point, the agency posted the request for proposals on its Business Center web site, which provided notification of the new bid opportunity to more than 1,000 companies.

Three businesses submitted official bids in that first round:  IXP, G4S Secure Solutions, and the Essex County Regional Emergency Communications. The T’s procurement team recommended selecting IXP, even though the firm did not offer the lowest price. But MBTA board members raised concerns about how the contract fit into the agency’s financial plan and asked for more information on the public posting process.

More than a year passed before the MBTA posted a second, revised request for proposals (known as an RFP), this time with a shorter deadline and on a different platform that instead sent notification to 33 companies. Shapiro’s report said IXP received an alert that the T was again seeking a contract for police dispatch services, but there was no record of similar notice going to the other two companies that bid the first time around.

The IG said the T also “may have inappropriately discouraged one of the 2016 bidders, G4S, from submitting a revised proposal in 2017” by inaccurately dubbing its first proposal “non-responsive and non-responsible.”

IXP wound up as the only company to bid on the second request for proposals, and the agency’s board later approved the contract.

“The MBTA’s receipt of a single proposal raises concerns in itself that the authority’s outreach for the 2017 procurement was not sufficient,” Shapiro’s office wrote in its new report. “The MBTA also could not provide documentation that it completed the required determination of adequate competition. Without that analysis, the MBTA could not show that the 2017 RFP had adequate competition or that it was not overly restrictive.”

Shapiro’s investigation flagged concerns not just with how the T posted its request for proposals, but also with how officials evaluated the sole and winning bid from IXP.

The MBTA “could not demonstrate” that its procurement committee in 2017 followed the review process outlined in the request for proposals, according to the report, which also described “confusion regarding the point at which the prior 2016 procurement process had officially ended.”

The Inspector General’s report recounted communications between the MBTA procurement committee and IXP in the interim between the first and second requests for proposals, suggesting they “reflect the Transit Police’s desire to hire IXP specifically and raise significant questions regarding the objectivity of the 2017 evaluation process.”

Two days before IXP submitted its eventual winning proposal in 2017, the Inspector General’s report said, a company employee emailed a member of the procurement committee seeking to clarify details, even though the request for proposals itself called for companies to submit questions through an official platform.

“This email was in direct violation of the requirements of the RFP:  not only was the email sent seven days after the deadline for submittal of clarifications, but IXP sent it directly to a 2017 committee member outside of the COMMBUYS platform,” the Inspector General’s report said. “By the terms of the RFP, IXP’s proposal should have been disqualified from consideration.”

Shapiro’s office issued seven recommendations to the MBTA, including suggestions that the T solicit a wider range of proposals, make clear to employees when they can communicate with vendors outside the formal procurement process, and train workers on record retention.

In a letter alongside the report, Shapiro said he is “encouraged by the action the MBTA’s Procurement and Logistics Department is undertaking to review our current and prior recommendations and update internal procurement and recordkeeping procedures.”

“I believe that Secretary [Monica] Tibbits-Nutt and General Manager [Phil] Eng will be able to effectively lead their teams in correcting and addressing these issues,” Shapiro wrote.

MBTA chief communications officer Gabrielle Mondestin said the agency “appreciates the Inspector General’s latest supplemental report and thanks the office for its oversight on this matter.”

“As we work to restore public confidence under new leadership, we are fully committed to transparency and accountability. While we have not yet had the opportunity for a comprehensive review, we understand this report centers on the IXP contract awarded in 2017 and has identified potential areas for improving record-keeping and procurement processes moving forward,” Mondestin said in a written statement.

“As we continue working to strengthen MBTA operations overall, we remain committed to making appropriate changes that bolster accountability, integrity, and responsible stewardship of funding, including continued improvements in record-keeping protocols and expanded staff training around procurement best practices. The public deserves assurance that every MBTA project and expenditure is fully compliant and in the public’s interest.”

 

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