COLUMBUS, Ohio _ A 2017 investigation by The Columbus Dispatch revealed the improper routing of more than $15 million in overpriced, no-bid contracts to favored information technology consultants by the Department of Administrative Services under then-Gov. John Kasich. Since then, more investigations into unbid contracts have been announced by the state’s inspector general, and Gov. Mike DeWine’s administration has made changes to bring more accountability and transparency to how state contracts are awarded.
Even as mounting evidence showed that problems were deep-rooted and widespread, then-Ohio Gov. Kasich was largely dismissive of the state contracting scandal on his administration’s watch.
No one ever was held accountable — no heads ever rolled — as a morass of millions in no-bid contracts, contract steering and other shenanigans accumulated at taxpayers’ expense at the Ohio Department of Administrative Services.
Inspector general reports calling out “wrongful acts” continue to emerge to this day, triggered by a 2017 investigation by The Dispatch revealing the improper routing of more than $15 million in overpriced, no-bid contracts to favored information technology consultants who once worked at DAS.
Months later, the office of Inspector General Randall J. Meyer and then-Auditor Dave Yost released investigations confirming The Dispatch’s reporting and issued recommendations for reform.
Now, 20 months later, Meyer’ office has issued another 10 investigations disclosing another $23.8 million in no-bid contracts, contract steering and costly oversight blunders in the minority and disadvantaged business programs.
Deputy inspectors general also uncovered $1 million in unbid contacts at the departments of Youth Services and Transportation and raised ethics concerns about chief information officer Stuart Davis soliciting $37,000 from a state contractor to sponsor his speech at a conference.
All of the misconduct occurred under Kasich, who vetoed legislation requiring Administrative Services to seek competitive bids on all technology contracts and submit them for Controlling Board approval as his administration imposed tougher controls on contracts.
“No one understands it; nobody cares about it,” Kasich, a Republican, said one year ago. “The best thing about it, (Director Robert) Blair was over there _ no corruption, OK? Nobody is trying to feather anybody’s nest.”
But a change of administrations has prompted change and tougher talk.
Before taking office as governor early this year, fellow Republican DeWine promised to right the state agency with the appointment as director of Matthew Damschroder, chief of staff to Lt. Gov. Jon Husted when he was secretary of state.
“I’m confident he is examining it. I’m confident he is going to get back to me and tell me exactly what are the things we need to do to make sure this will not happen again,” DeWine said recently.
Damschroder has revised policies emphasizing that three price quotes must be obtained from differing contractors before hiring one and requiring better justification when bypassing the lowest bid for another vendor, he said
“The charge of the governor has been to clean it up … to bring back accountability and transparency,” said Damschroder, who has told procurement employees, who objected to past practices but were ignored, that they can come to him with concerns.
The director says he has exerted control over contractors who were allowed to make decisions at Administrative Services and is more carefully assessing whether state employees can do the work before opting for pricey consultants.
And Damschroder has appointed a committee to develop improvements to the rules controlling the minority business enterprise and EDGE programs to crack down on routing money to non-qualified and “shell” contractors and increase accountability.
The DAS director also is calling for a price to be paid for “unethical choices made by vendors. This administration is not going to tolerate those.”
Although the Kasich administration moved to bar two contractors cited for misconduct from receiving any more state contracts late in his second term, Administrative Services has become more aggressive this year.
The agency is moving to permanently prevent four companies and individuals from receiving any state work after they were flagged for wrongdoing in findings in the inspector general’s reports.
In his latest report, Meyer said Administrative Services “has taken an active role in addressing, strengthening and enforcing” new contracting reforms.