Kansas Revenue Secretary Sam Williams is defending the process his agency used to hand out a multi-million dollar IT contract without taking public bids.
The deal with contractor CGI to update a tax management system will cost the state $50 million over 10 years.
Some lawmakers and the union representing state employees have said the deal-making process should have been more transparent.
Williams said the Department of Revenue already had a relationship with the contractor, CGI, and working with them again was the most economical way to handle the computer system upgrade.
“My feeling was, as we went through this process, it was being made public at the levels it needed to be,” Williams said in a meeting Friday with reporters. “It’s out there. It’s public record.”
Williams said the proposed agreement was posted publicly for one week to give other companies a chance to object. One company did, but Williams said it soon became clear that the company wasn’t capable of handling the needed services.
Williams said the cost of hiring the high-level IT staff needed to create new software and perform upgrades in-house would be higher than outsourcing.
“I am not an Oracle, I am not an Apple,” Williams said. “If I’m trying to give resources to creating software, I’m taking resources away from those core competencies.”
The president of the Kansas Organization of State Employees, Sarah LaFrenz, said the process through which CGI was awarded the contract wasn’t transparent enough for state lawmakers and taxpayers to know whether it really is a good deal.
“It’s very disappointing, at best, to see them claim to be transparent and fully vetted when this came as a surprise to the employees, to the legislators, to everyone,” she said.
Some lawmakers said they didn’t find out about the agreement until more than 50 IT staff layoffs were confirmed this week as part of the outsourcing.
Republican Rep. Joy Koesten sits on the Government, Technology and Security Committee in the Kansas Legislature. She said on Twitter that she had never heard testimony or discussion on the proposal, "So much for transparency and good governance."
For 2 years I’ve sat on the Government, Security & Tech Committee #ksleg and NEVER heard testimony or discussion regarding this change in policy. Yes, “privatization moves should have received more vetting during #ksleg session.” So much for transparency & good governance. https://t.co/Y2R9viHUO3
— Joy Koesten (@joyforkansas) May 11, 2018
Gov. Jeff Colyer, while signing transparency bills into law earlier this week, referred questions about the CGI contract to Williams and said he directed Williams to speak with reporters about it.
“The issue there has been transparent and followed the regulations, and in the spirit of that, I’ve asked Sec. Sam Williams to make himself available to all of you,” Colyer said.
Negotiations on the contract started under previous Gov. Sam Brownback, who stepped down earlier this year to take a job in the Trump administration.
Stephen Koranda is Statehouse reporter for Kansas Public Radio, a partner in the Kansas News Service. Follow him on Twitter @kprkoranda.
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