BGR Seeks Reforms to Contracting in Jefferson

• Bureau of Governmental Research

Overview

Jefferson Parish, like other local governments, routinely turns to the private sector to provide the range of services expected of modern government. Its contracts are as varied as translation services for courts, dental services for juvenile inmates, engineering services for drainage projects and trash hauling services to dispose of household waste. The parish is not required to award these service contracts to the lowest bidder. Instead, it can consider factors other than price.
Often, this is a sensible approach. Price is not necessarily the most important factor for selecting services that depend on technical or specialized skills. But the inclusion of non-price considerations results in a more subjective selection process – and the potential for favoritism, waste and abuse. Without a transparent and rational set of procedures, jurisdictions are sure to face serious questions over how and why contracts are awarded.
As currently constructed, Jefferson Parish’s contracting process encourages exactly these types of questions. In fact, flaws in the parish’s approach have contributed to contracting problems in recent years.

Key Findings

•When it comes to contracting, Jefferson Parish has an atypical distribution of government powers. Decisionmaking authority is located in the legislative branch, rather than the executive. This is abnormal for a government with an elected executive and creates a misalignment of responsibility and powers.
•More importantly, parish law bestows upon the council an extraordinary amount of discretion in selecting service contractors. The Parish Council is free to ignore the work and recommendations of evaluation committees. Compounding the discretion problem is the Parish Council’s custom of deferring to recommendation of the council member in whose district a project is located.
•The arrangement creates the risk that contracts will be awarded based more on relationships than on an in-depth analysis of what makes most sense for taxpayers.

Recommendations

•Assign all service procurements above a certain threshold to an appropriate evaluation committee for review using relevant and weighted criteria.
•Require the Parish Council or the parish president to approve the selection of the evaluation committee’s highest-ranked respondent or terminate the procurement.
•Require, where state law allows it, parish evaluation committees to consider price in their evaluations of interested firms.
•Establish in all its SOQs and RFPs minimum technical scores below which a firm cannot be selected.
•For Routine Engineering jobs, award contracts to prequalified firms on a random basis or through mini-competitions using randomly selected subsets of pre-qualified firms.
•Reduce the dollar limit for using the Routine Engineering Process to $100,000.
•Require the parish government to use sealed bids for nonprofessional service procurements unless there is a compelling reason for utilizing the more subjective RFP Process.
•Subject contracts for personal services to either the parish’s RFP or bid processes.
•Create a centralized, professional procurement office in the executive branch, responsible for the smooth functioning of all parish contracting processes.
•Require disclosure of campaign contributions by or on behalf of subcontractors.
•Require all contractors, subcontractors and their principals to disclose any family or business relationships with parish officials or employees.
•Require all citizen members of evaluation committees to submit financial disclosures and certify that neither they nor their immediate family members have an economic interest in the firms subject to their review.
•Create a procurement manual that provides a clear guide to each step of the contracting process.
•Monitor and document contractor performance on an ongoing basis.