Doug Crawford was skeptical from the start when his company first decided to bid on a contract with Lafayette Consolidated Government to provide GPS monitoring for parish-owned vehicles. The request for proposals sent out by LCG contained several specifications that would directly favor a local company getting the contract, and the scuttlebutt was that Acadian Monitoring Services (a subsidiary of Acadian Ambulance) had assisted LCG with filling in the details of its RFP. In part because it has a local partner in Lafayette to help meet many of those demands, Crawford’s Trenton, Fla.-based FAS Systems decided to submit a proposal anyway.
It was one of 12 companies to answer the RFP. Only two of those, Acadian Monitoring and Consolidated Safety, are based in Lafayette.
A couple of weeks after the proposals were all received and accepted by LCG, Crawford got an e-mail: Lafayette Consolidated Government had decided to take a mulligan. All the bids received would be discarded and a new RFP, with new specifications, was being sent out. Crawford says he received no explanation for why this was happening. Upon hearing the news, his suspicions deepened, and he immediately picked up the phone and demanded that his company’s original proposal be sent back.
“It just reeks of some improprieties,” Crawford says. “We put in sealed bids which were opened then canceled, then re-bid. It makes me wonder who looked at my numbers. My question is, is someone [with a competitor] on the inside?”
Crawford has been with FAS for more than 15 years and bid dozens of contracts with local governments. “I’ve never had this happen before,” he says. At the very least, he claims the RFP process was mishandled and reflects poorly on Lafayette. “The level of professionalism? I’d have to put it really low, whether anybody looked at all the bids or not,” he says.
“It just stinks,” he continues. “I just can’t believe that you go out with an RFP on a project that size and then you screwed it up and have to re-bid it. I’m sorry, somebody looked at all those bids.”
LCG Chief Information Officer Keith Thibodeaux, who has been overseeing the GPS contract for LCG, insists the bid process has not been compromised, even though technically the proposals appear to have been subject to public record law for several days between the time they were accepted and the point LCG chose to cancel its initial RFP.
“They have not been distributed at all,” Thibodeaux says.
“I can assure you there is no fix,” he adds. “Now, do I blame the vendors for being upset about having to do work twice? No. Would they need to be upset that a competitor saw their bid? I wouldn’t blame them for being upset, but I can tell you that didn’t happen in here.”
Proposals for consideration on the contract, valued at $390,000, are now due by Jan. 12. Thibodeaux expects to have a contract signed by the end of February.
Thibodeaux says he wrote both RFPs that went out, basing them on a similar RFP from Cumberland County government in Tennessee. He did consult with Acadian Monitoring during the process, but says that he also discussed the RFP with reps from two other potential vendors, AT&T and Verizon. He also called officials at Stone Energy and Fenstermaker & Associates, two companies that contract out for GPS services.
City-Parish President Joey Durel has made equipping hundreds of LCG vehicles with GPS tracking devices a priority in his 2010 budget. Citing examples from other cities, Durel says that closely monitoring city-parish vehicles will result in big fuel and overtime savings. The issue briefly put the mayor at odds with the council during budget hearings. Councilman Jay Castille’s motion to strip the $395,000 set aside for the initiative won a majority vote from the council, only to be vetoed by Durel. (The council did not have a two-thirds majority to override Durel).
Thibodeaux says the council’s reluctance to fund the project prompted a decision to draft a new RFP, which he claims requires less of a commitment from LCG. “At that point,” Thibodeaux recalls, “we said, ‘you know what, I don’t know that we want to put ourselves in a position where we can’t easily get back out of this thing, because what if next year we don’t get the funding?’”
Thibodeaux says he discussed the issue with LCG Chief Administrative Officer Dee Stanley, and then authored the memo himself canceling the initial RFP.
“If you don’t know you’re going to have the money to continue it, then you don’t want to make a big heavy investment up front,” he continues. “So that’s one of the real differences between the two RFPs. The first one we’re saying we want to see everything you got, show us what you would recommend us to do. The second one we’re saying, this is the only kind of solution we’re going to consider.”
Despite Thibodeaux’s assertions, two vendors that have been involved in the bid process say they saw few differences in the two RFPs. A side-by-side comparison of the documents, which The Independent obtained through a public records request, reveals mostly technical changes. Both 18-page RFPs include many of the same safeguards against unforeseen expenses, including clauses that require “vendor maintenance plans have an all-inclusive ‘flat-fee’ that will not require LCG to pay any additional fees for changes, modifications, and updates requested throughout the year” and that “software installation must be an automated process that requires minimal I.T. involvement.” As for the project’s scope, the newer RFP actually states that LCG will be ordering more GPS tracking units than the first RFP (between 500 and 700 as opposed to the initial RFP’s 100 to 500 unit estimation).
Both RFPs also are full of esoteric specifications that those in the industry say are a red flag for a contract that is custom-built for a specific vendor. An example includes LCG’s request for polygon-shaped GEOfencing. While most vendors provide GEOfencing — a virtual fence set up to alert attendants to when a vehicle has moved outside a designated zone — a more select group designs them in polygon shapes. In addition, LCG stipulated that it wants its vendor to offer on-site support within two hours of a call — a clause that would seem to clearly favor a local business. “In matters involving public safety,” responds Thibodeaux, “it is imperative that a vehicle be returned to service in a prompt time frame. It is felt that the two-hour requirement is both reasonable and attainable.”
U.S. Fleet Tracking Corp is one national vendor that will no longer be bidding on the project. After submitting a proposal for the first RFP, U.S. Fleet’s National Sales Director Richard Banks says the company will not be participating in the second round of bids, having determined that the project’s specs will prohibit an out-of-state company from competing. It’s something Banks says unfortunately has become all too commonplace in the business.
“When you’re dealing with local governments,” he says, “and I don’t care if it’s Lafayette, or a city in Oklahoma or any other state — it’s not at all unusual to find an agency has already selected the vendor they want to use. They then write the bid specification for that specific product or vendor. We see this all the time.”
Banks adds that because of this, U.S. Fleet rarely bids on local government contracts anymore. Based in Oklahoma City, U.S. Fleet is one of the country’s largest GPS manufacturers, and this year will be tracking vehicles for events including the Super Bowl and the Winter Olympics in Vancouver. (The company also claims to be the only provider of real-time monitoring.)
“When we see cases where there’s odd or unusual language which favors a specific product, we decline to bid simply because we refuse to lend legitimacy to such corrupt bid processes and practices,” Banks says. “They may be issuing an RFP, but in reality they’re asking for a legitimate request from multiple vendors when there’s only one vendor that will meet 100 percent of the criteria they’ve laid out. Yes, it does happen. It happens all over the country. And it’s wrong.”
It’s a sentiment Doug Crawford with FAS Systems shares. His company will be bidding again on Lafayette’s GPS contract, but he isn’t holding out any hope of landing it. “Do I expect to get it?” he asks with a laugh. “Not a chance. I’d be willing to bet on that one. We can start an inner-office pool on it. That contract is going to someone in Acadiana.”
Here's your daily look at late-breaking national and international news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Wednesday, December 11, 2013
That would be Congressman John Fleming talking about Sen. David Vitter.
The alleged mastermind behind the bribery scheme that went on for four years under DA Mike Harson’s nose isn’t just schizophrenic, bipolar and recovering from mini strokes; he now says he has cancer.
Louisiana's higher education leaders are trying to work out a financing deal to keep the state's public colleges from running low on state cash to operate their campuses.
With their latest triumph, the Saints left little doubt about how tough they are to beat in the Superdome. Unfortunately, two of their remaining three games are on the road.
For the first time in at least five years, retired teachers, state workers and school system employees could see an increase in their pension checks.
Lawmakers and Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration shared a collective sigh of relief with the news that Louisiana's tax amnesty program brought in the $200 million that they used to help balance this year's budget.
Drew Brees often makes the extraordinary look routine, particularly during night games in the Superdome.
The teams were extended invitations Sunday for the New Year's Day matchup played at Raymond James Stadium, home of the NFL's Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
If all 44 projects are approved, about $300 million would remain in the fund set up as a down payment to help the Gulf.
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Since Anthony Jennings and Brooks Haack were not expected to contribute until next year at the earliest, it seemed like a sneak peek at hidden Christmas gifts.
Louisiana National Guard personnel seeking benefits for same-sex spouses will have an easier time filing the requests, despite a state refusal to let its workers process the paperwork.
Panthers coach Ron Rivera sees one potential flaw with his team's stellar defensive play so far this season. "Apparently we like to bite on the double moves," Rivera said.
Computer hackers may have gained access to the personal information of thousands of Louisiana residents who use debit cards issued by JPMorgan Chase for three state agencies, authorities said Wednesday.
Jim Purcell, who has been in the job since February 2011, notified the Board of Regents about his decision at its monthly meeting.
Hushed plans for a commercial development along the Louisiana Avenue portion of the Holy Rosary campus put the future of longtime tenant EarthShare Gardens in jeopardy.
If a recent advertisement in The Daily Advertiser is any indication, speculation the local daily will be implementing the “Butterfly Project” could be more of a reality than the Gannett-owned paper’s top execs are willing to admit.
Mettenberger injured his left knee while unloading a 32-yard completion in the fourth quarter of No. 14 LSU's 31-27 victory over Arkansas last Friday, and LSU coach Les Miles confirmed the severity of the injury on Wednesday.
An ordinance to phase out a 2 percent rebate to Lafayette merchants for collecting and remitting on time sales taxes cleared the City-Parish Council by a 6-3 vote.
Louisianans are the fourth most likely to use profanity yet also the fourth most likely to be courteous. So, please, just kiss my a** ... if it’s not too much trouble.
The state Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority voted Tuesday to authorize two lawsuits against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
A long night on the field in Seattle got even worse off of it, and now the Saints are operating on a compressed time-frame as they brace for surging Carolina with first place in the NFC South at stake.
Public school letter grades, teacher evaluations and student promotion won't be affected by Louisiana's shift to more rigorous educational standards for two years, the state's top school board decided Tuesday.
Vitter told The Associated Press that he is sending an email to supporters Wednesday and is in discussions with his family about the possibility.