In the war on COVID-19, Utah has doled out more than $84 million in no-bid contracts and supply orders outside the normal purchasing process designed to promote transparency, fairness and competition among businesses.
These procurement shortcuts were necessary during the pandemic, officials argue, to cope with the urgent need for protective gear, shattered supply chains and intense international competition over precious medical equipment.
Still, lawmakers and whistleblowers are increasingly demanding answers about how the state awarded lucrative contracts and stewarded taxpayer dollars during the emergency.
“We don’t know who’s calling the shots, who’s bringing in the connections,” said Rep. Andrew Stoddard, D-Midvale. “That’s my No. 1 [concern] is we’re spending taxpayer dollars without any accountability, and I think that’s something every Utahn deserves because these are huge amounts of money.”
In the absence of competitive bidding processes, public records show that personal recommendations and CEO suggestions guided state officials as they formulated a coronavirus response plan and hunted down critical supplies.
A technology executive steered the state to a company that would become one of its primary suppliers of masks, gloves and gowns during the pandemic, according to emails obtained through a public records request. Business leaders also had a heavy hand in shaping the state’s TestUtah.com initiative — and later landed multimillion-dollar contracts to launch and run it.
As the need for no-bid contracting subsided earlier this month, state officials last week returned to a more normal way of doing business and began taking stock of their recent purchasing blitz.
The Alliance for a Better Utah, a government accountability organization that advocates on progressive issues, has filed a price gouging complaint in a separate instance related to an $800,000 purchase for malaria drugs the state ultimately canceled. In that case, Draper-based Meds in Motion billed the state $40 per drug packet — a cost that appears to be in excess of what most customers pay for the drugs, the complaint stated.