Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s administration doesn’t always follow the policies he put in place calling for transparency in the city’s contracting process, Inspector General Ed Quatrevaux said in a report issued Wednesday.
The report said the city’s requests for vendors to provide goods and professional services sometimes do not include clear instructions on how contractors’ performance and costs will be evaluated. Also, it said, the city sometimes has flouted its open meetings rule by allowing some parts of the selection process to be done behind closed doors.
The IG’s Office reviewed 128 city solicitations representing more than $112 million in estimated expenditures in 2013.
The review was launched to identify any hurdles in the city’s procurement process that would impede “fair and open competition” for city contracts, Quatrevaux said.
Shortly after taking office in 2010, Landrieu unveiled a package of reforms to the city’s contracting rules, designed to increase transparency and to put to rest longstanding complaints that the contracting process was prone to patronage and corruption.
The IG’s Office identified three areas for improvement.
First, the review found that the city’s requests for proposals sometimes did not clearly explain to potential applicants how work would be evaluated and what penalties or incentives could be incurred for failing to meet, or exceeding, performance expectations.
Instead of specific requirements for each solicitation, many of the city’s requests included boilerplate language that the IG’s Office said was not specific enough to be used to assess a contractor’s performance or to provide the city with adequate recourse if a contractor failed to operate satisfactorily.
“If reporting requirements and performance standards are not specifically outlined in the RFP, it is unlikely that contractors will allow new standards and/or penalties to be added during the negotiation phase,” the report said. “Clearly stated performance expectations combined with active contract management encourage better contractor performance and provide better value for public dollars.”
Similarly, the report said, some solicitations for professional services were vague, not explaining to potential contractors how their cost proposals would be evaluated and not clearly identifying the intended quantity or duration of the services being requested.
The report also took the administration to task for occasionally using a “mini-RFP” process that it said in effect allows selection committees to meet, evaluate proposals and select developers without holding a public meeting. In those cases, solicitations were first done through a request for qualifications, which resulted in a shortlist of prequalified applicants for an RFP. In those cases, the RFPs then were issued directly to the shortlisted candidates outside a public forum, the IG found.
That approach does not meet the requirements for open selection committee meetings and publicly advertised RFPs, the IG said. A key part of Landrieu’s package of reforms was to require that a panel appointed by the mayor meet in public to award professional services contracts. Under former Mayor Ray Nagin, the decision on who was awarded such work was made by the mayor alone.
Quatrevaux said his office will continue to monitor the solicitations issued by the city’s procurement office in 2015.
In response, Chief Administrative Officer Andy Kopplin said the city provides specific guidance on performance incentives and penalties and other reporting requirements to vendors on “a wide range of contracts,” such as the $500 million contract for a new terminal at Louis Armstrong International Airport. Kopplin agreed with the IG’s recommendation for more training of employees to ensure that such requirements are included in all future RFPs.
“However, just as the OIG had to scale back its prior review of all of the city’s RFPs because of resource constraints, the city also has resource constraints that require us to prioritize adding these performance requirements for the most important procurements first, which is what we have done,” Kopplin wrote.
He said the city also will ensure that all selection meetings are held in public and that all RFPs include information about cost and quantity.