Decision Ousting Firm From Louisiana Recovery Deal Reversed
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — The company that won a multimillion-dollar Louisiana flood recovery contract only to see the deal canceled because of conflict of interest concerns will be allowed to compete again for the work.
A top official in Gov. John Bel Edwards' administration has ordered a redo of the bid review process that will let Hunt Guillot and Associates, known as HGA, be considered for the federally financed contract.
The Restore Louisiana contract is intended to help people whose homes were damaged by the 2016 floods, as the program winds down rebuilding assistance and moves toward buyouts and other flood mitigation work.
Baton Rouge-based HGA was chosen as the winning bidder in March.
But the contract award was rescinded in May when Louisiana's chief procurement officer Paula Tregre said key staff involved in the deal shouldn't be allowed to participate because they have a conflict of interest and may have given HGA an unfair advantage. Tregre, whose office oversees the bid review, called for a new evaluation team to choose among the two other vendors who sought the work.
HGA appealed that decision to Tregre's boss, Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne, the governor's chief budget adviser. And Dardenne decided last week that HGA and the two other losing bidders should all be allowed to submit updated contract proposals for consideration.
It's unclear when a new contract award will be made. Dardenne spokesman Jacques Berry said the evaluation committee members "can take as long as they need."
During her review, Tregre found several flaws in the contract award.
Among them, she said HGA intended to use a subcontractor with two employees who had obvious conflicts of interest. In particular, Tregre said one worker has been a contract employee with the state's disaster recovery agency as it developed the request for bids and appeared to have supervisory authority over at least one bid evaluator.
HGA said Louisiana's ethics board in April cleared the subcontractor employees to do the new contract work. The company said Tregre was wrong in determining a conflict of interest and disregarding the ethics board's opinion.
Dardenne didn't agree with Tregre's decision to void the award.
"While I fully understand (her) conclusion that the appearance of impropriety cannot be allowed to tarnish the procurement process, I also believe that the record in this case simply fails to establish that there was any undue or improper influence," Dardenne wrote.
He added: "Given the small band of individuals with knowledge and experience in this particular industry, some level of personnel overlap is bound to occur."
Three companies submitted bids in January for the contract, overseen by the Edwards administration's Office of Community Development: HGA, Hammerman and Gainer, and Thompson Construction Group.
The Office of Community Development rejected Hammerman and Gainer's proposal, saying it didn't comply with the bid specifications. The company then filed a formal protest of the contract award, which led to Tregre's decision and the follow-up review by Dardenne.
Dardenne's decision will allow all three companies to participate in the bid process.
Edwards has said that disruptions in choosing a contractor haven't slowed ongoing flood recovery efforts, because the Restore Louisiana program continues to operate under an older, existing contract with an outside vendor.