Buono/Greenstein Bill To Provide Transparency In Post-Emergency Contracting Negotiations, Save Taxpayer Dollars Advances

TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by Senators Barbara Buono and Linda R. Greenstein that would ensure even in an emergency, state contracts would be publicly advertised and bid and must follow the state’s pay-to-play laws was approved today by the Senate State Government, Wagering, Tourism and Historic Preservation Committee.

“In the Aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, The Governor awarded a multi-million dollar contract to AshBritt, a firm with deep-Republican Party ties, without any attempt at negotiating the price for services to protect taxpayer dollars – even though AshBritt has said they would have been willing to negotiate,” said Senator Buono, D-Middlesex. “Without question, it was necessary for swift and thorough clean-up after such a disastrous storm as Sandy, but with an open and transparent process, we can be sure that relief funds are being spent efficiently and appropriately.”

The bill, S-2584, would create an expedited competitive contracting process for awarding state and local government contacts for goods and services during a declared state of emergency. It would require that such contracts follow all pay-to-play laws and laws requiring disclosure of political contributions by business entities performing public contracts.

The state’s Disaster Control Act grants the Governor authority to use state resources to commandeer personal services and private property and to make orders, rules and regulations as may be necessary in a time of emergency – whether due to an act of war or a disaster. Post-Hurricane Sandy, Governor Christie used the powers granted by the Disaster Control Act to enter into a no-bid contract with AshBritt for debris removal just hours after the storm made landfall.

“Over the past year and a half, we have had three ‘100-year’ storms hit our shores, devastating homes and businesses across the Garden State,” said Senator Greenstein, D-Middlesex and Mercer. “With this increase in natural disasters, it is essential that we revisit laws that govern our actions in an emergency to ensure they continue to serve the best interest of the people. Making sure that contracts are awarded competitively and that contributions from contractors are brought into the light of openness and transparency is a step to achieve that goal.”

Under the bill, a contract awarded during an emergency for either delivery of goods or the performance of services would be required to be publicly announced and the request for proposals posted on the Department of Treasury’s website. Any firm that wishes to be considered for the contract would submit its proposal, including a statement of competence and qualifications and any necessary supporting documentation and data, electronically with 48 hours of the announcement.

Firms submitting proposals would be ranked in order from most qualified to least qualified to perform the contract based on the following criteria: Ability to meet specifications, requirements, terms and conditions; ability to provide services, positions and equipment; qualifications of the project manger; team member qualifications; the firm’s project management system; references and past performance; quality assurance; cost factors; business information; and health and safety. The state would then negotiate with the three highest-ranking firms to determine whose proposal is most advantageous for the state.

The Senators note that the bill uses similar provisions that govern competitive contracting for architectural, engineering and land surveying services but in an expedited manner during an emergency.

The bill would also ensure that contracts awarded during an emergency would be subject to current pay-to-play restrictions, which eliminate from consideration an organization making more than a $300 contribution to the Governor, a candidate for Governor, or a state or county political party committee within 18 months of the start of negotiations of the contract, during the term of the Governor or within 18 months before the last day of the Governor’s term. The state Treasurer would have the authority to waive the pay-to-play restrictions for contributions made prior to awarding the contract if there is insufficient competition – defined under the bill as receipt of three or fewer responsive bids or proposals. However, pay-to-play restrictions would apply during the performance of the contract.

The bill was approved by the Committee with a vote of 3-0-2. It now heads to the full Senate for consideration.