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More Money, More Problems (Editorial)

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The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette’s recent report on yet another dispute over the procurement of a big state contract made us sit up and take notice. Anytime hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars are in play, the stakes are high and the competition fierce.

In this case, the Accenture consulting firm has complained that it was not given a chance to update its bid for the computer systems that manage enrollment in government assistance programs after the winning bidder, Deloitte Consulting, added $96 million to its price tag. Initially, you see, Deloitte had underbid Accenture by $87,000 (and even that wasn’t the low bid).

According to state law, bidders must be allowed to revise their bids when negotiations result in “material revisions” to a competitor’s bid. It’s hard to argue that changes that added 40 percent to the cost were not material revisions.

This particular contract is especially irksome because it is the replacement for an early contract that Gov. Asa Hutchinson canceled after the cost of the project doubled to $200 million. The contract awarded to Deloitte earlier this month makes that one look like a bargain; the new total could be more than $340 million.

But nothing is a bargain if it doesn’t do the job. Which is why it was worrisome to learn that Deloitte had failed to disclose that the eligibility system that it installed for Rhode Island in 2016 had resulted in litigation, the appointment of a federal special master and an order by the federal government to fix the system. Arkansas doesn’t need more litigation.

If we accept the unpleasant truth that the poor will be with us always, we need to have an efficient system for providing them with assistance. That may not necessarily be the cheapest system, but taxpayers should have some confidence that contracts are being awarded fairly and legally, and that any additional costs are truly necessary and not predatory.

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