Georgia Democrats call for probe of $1.1B contract

(The Center Square) — Georgia Democrats want an investigation after they said a state audit surfaced questions about whether Gov. Brian Kemp’s administration circumvented state contracting requirements, potentially for political gain.

It’s not immediately clear which state or federal agencies might lead the probe, and Democrats said they haven’t formally requested an investigation.

At issue is a $1.1 billion contract the Georgia Department of Human Services executed to distribute debit cards to direct benefits recipients, including Medicaid, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. The contract was highlighted in a January review by the Georgia Department of Audits & Accounts.

“Ordinarily, when … an individual government agency receives federal funds, there are rules that apply to how those federal funds are to be used,” state Rep. Tanya Miller, D-Atlanta, said during a virtual media conference in response to a question from The Center Square. “I certainly think that there is a question, at least, about whether or not there was some misuse of federal funds or some misuse of the process for distributing federal funds.

“I think that’s a legitimate question to be asked,” Miller added. “But certainly, there are multiple criminal investigative offices that would have jurisdiction over this.”

The “special examination,” conducted at the request of the Senate Appropriations Committee, explored state purchasing and competitive bidding. Overall, it found that “purchases largely comply with state competitive bidding requirements with a few exceptions” and that “additional guidance and audits would likely lead to fewer noncompliant purchases.”

“DHS and the Governor’s Office of Planning and Budget directly provided a solicitation document to four potential suppliers and obtained proposals from three,” the audit revealed. “In a manner similar to that typically used for solicitations, the proposals were reviewed and scored by a panel of DHS and OPB staff members to determine the awardee.”

According to the audit, a request for proposal under the state’s competitive bidding requirements typically takes at least four to six months. In this case, the solicitation document for this program opened on Aug. 25, and the supplier was selected on Sept. 1.

Democrats pounced on the finding.

“It appears that the Kemp administration had something to gain because instead of following this state law, the audit found that the state handpicked a couple of vendors to ask for bids from and took only seven days to select a vendor for the $1.1 billion project,” state Sen. Elena Parent, D-Atlanta, said during the briefing.

Spokesmen for Kemp did not respond to a request for comment.