Sen. Heidi Campbell (D-Nashville)
NASHVILLE (TN Tribune)—Sen. Heidi Campbell (D-Nashville) is calling on state auditors to complete an investigation into the no-bid contracts awarded by Gov. Bill Lee’s administration since the beginning of the pandemic and report those findings to the Fiscal Review Committee this summer.
“Tennesseans are right to question if they’re getting their money’s worth from the Lee administration. The pandemic has been unprecedented, but spending tax dollars responsibly should be the standard no matter what,” Sen. Campbell said. “Recent news reports detail some disturbing failures about the process the administration engaged in to purchase goods and services — against the better judgement of career professionals.
“It’s time for the Fiscal Review Committee and the public to have full transparency into that failed contract and the performance of every other business deal the Lee administration made without oversight,” Sen. Campbell said.
Sen. Campbell, a member of the panel responsible for reviewing non-compete contracts awarded by the state, wants state auditors in the comptroller’s office to present their findings – or at least provide an update on their investigation — at an upcoming meeting. The Fiscal Review Committee, which conducts regular reviews of state spending, special appropriations, such as no-bid contracts, and tax collections, is scheduled to meet Aug. 11 and Sept. 8.
“What we’re hearing in the news about individual deals is not good so it’s time to see how the governor’s no-bid contracts performed on the whole,” Sen. Campbell said. “There’s accountability in transparency and we don’t want this governor or the next governor to make the same mistake again.”
The renewed calls for contract transparency follow a bombshell report by News Channel 5’s Phil Williams, who interviewed Tennessee’s former vaccine chief. In the interview, Dr. Michelle Fiscus said the Lee administration moved forward with a no-bid contract for Covid-19 testing with Nomi Health, a brand new company that had no previous experience in medical testing.
According to the report, health officials begged for Lee’s commissioner to call off the contract after a meeting where a company representative said “we’ve only been doing this for about four weeks.” Instead of delivering certified medical equipment, Nomi Health delivered veterinary wipes, plastic gloves used by cattle breeders, faulty N95 masks and an unusable Covid tests.
That’s not the only example of a sketchy no-bid contract either. On Nov. 23, 2020, Blake Farmer of Nashville Public Radio reported on a $20 million contract with XTend Healthcare to manage contact tracing for the state. Again, this was a multi-million dollar contract with a company with no experience in epidemiology. The State paid nearly $40 per hour for each contact tracer employed by this company, despite the company paying just $16 per hour to the employees. The private contract tracing effort was marked by significant delays, which largely erases the effectiveness of the program.