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Council president opposes open-ended contracts for IT projects in Harford

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Harford County Council President Billy Boniface refused to support an open-ended contract for the county's information technology department during Thursday's Board of Estimates meeting.

Commenting that there have been "historical issues" with open-ended contracts during the procurement process, Boniface said he would not vote for the contract up for approval that morning.

Ted Pibil, with the county's IT department, appeared before the board recommending an award not to exceed $1,545,000 to several companies that will cover 22 functional categories and 122 labor categories for the department: Federal Engineering Inc.; 22nd Century Technologies; The James Group; DK Consulting LLC; Deloitte Consulting LLC; Cyquent Inc.; KCI Technologies; Eplus Technologies; G.R. Patel and Associates; Computer Consultants International; EA Engineering Science; and Powersolv Inc.

IT will use the contract to receive competitive pricing for various needs in the department in areas such as web and Internet security, electronic document management, software engineering and database administration.

The department had 56 total submissions when the contract was made public; they were shortlisted to 25 vendors, according to a memo to Debbie Henderson, director of procurement, from Pibil.

"Of those shortlisted vendors," the memo continued, "we are awarding the contract to vendors who scored a combined technical and cost score of at least 90 points for each functional area."

Members of the selection committee evaluated each vendor based on submitted cost proposals in 122 labor categories provided by the committee, but many vendors did not submit proposal for all categories.

Members of that committee were Terry Draayer, from information technology, Stacy Rappold, from the department of procurement, and Pibil.

In February, a special audit was performed, targeting information technology contracts.

The audit found instances where the county relied heavily on non-competitive bid service contracts and therefore was open to possible fraud and misappropriation of county assets.

The Division of Information and Communication Technology requested the majority of contracts. Harford County Executive David Craig fired the division's director, Justus Eapen, in January shortly before the audit's final report was given to Craig and the county council.

Board of Estimates member Jay Van Deusen also had qualms about the contract and asked Pibil why it was so broad-based.

Pibil responded that the contract covers everything IT would need to outsource. Instead of going about things project by project, this would expedite and streamline the process.

Pibil, a former political consultant who did work for Craig's 2010 re-election campaign and has had contracts with the county himself, was given a temporary, contractual county position as a "business architect" in 2011, according to county personnel records requested by The Aegis under a Freedom of Information Act filing. Craig put him in charge of the IT department on an acting basis, following Eapen's firing.

Boniface pointed out that each contract would not be negotiated in public since it would not go through the board of estimates in a public meeting.

Henderson told Boniface that the county council already approved an annual budget for the IT department to cover certain projects during the year.

When it is decided to go ahead with these projects, she continued, Pibil typically does a scope of services to determine possible vendors and then the lowest bidder. The lowest bidder receives the contract and doesn't need to go before the board of estimates.

"I don't agree with this process," Boniface said. "It's superseding the board of estimates process by doing this."

Craig commented that he has the attitude that most people want the government to run like a business, and a business wouldn't go through that process.

"There's a dividing line of when that occurs," he said.

Boniface agreed with Craig's sentiment about government as a business, but "the law is the law," he said. On top of this, Boniface continued, the estimates board wasn't using its own money, but the taxpayers' money.

Henderson said costly projects for the IT department don't fall under this contract and it was mostly for smaller ones.

The board approved the contract with Boniface and Van Deusen voting against it.

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