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Isis is out, state says

The Baltimore Sun

Isis withdraws from program The head of a firm fast-tracked for state certification as a minority business has withdrawn her company from the program. But the probe of Maryland's minority business enterprise system continues.

Carol L. Hirschburg, a longtime Republican strategist, had asked that her company, Isis Technology Consulting LLC, be removed from Maryland's Minority Business Enterprise program March 1, the same day The Sun detailed her efforts to get a $12 million slice of a three-year, $110 million technology contract with the state Department of Human Resources.

"Isis is no longer a certified minority business," said Erin Henson, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Department of Transportation, which oversees the MBE program, in response to questions from a reporter who noticed that Isis was no longer listed in the Internet-based MBE directory.

Henson said Hirschburg asked that her firm be immediately removed from the program in a brief e-mail and that the Isis president gave no explanation for her decision.

Hirschburg declined to comment yesterday. But she has said in the past that neither she nor the company broke any rules or did anything wrong. She has said she was unaware whether any exceptional or unusual actions were taken by the state on behalf of Isis.

The removal of Isis from the list does not change the firm's role in prompting a review of the state's minority business enterprise program. The program was started in the 1970s to nurture small businesses owned by ethnic minorities, women and financially disadvantaged individuals.

Transportation Secretary John D. Porcari recently initiated an audit of 450 applications fast-tracked since 2001. MDOT has allowed fast-tracking to help minority-owned firms jump in on bids for projects with state and federal funding. Porcari said there were no set rules for fast-tracking and that he wanted to be sure individuals were not taking advantage of the process.

Last week, Gov. Martin O'Malley called for a "ground-up" review of the MBE program to ensure that it is meeting its legislative mandate, and Comptroller Peter Franchot requested a review of all contracts quickly executed between MDOT and private companies in the past year of the Republican administration of former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.

Isis' file at MDOT has been pulled by auditors for review along with others, said Henson, who could not say when the audit would be completed.

"[Hirschburg's e-mail] still doesn't change the fact that they were fast-tracked," she said.

As part of the audit, state transportation officials will also check to see whether Isis should have been certified as a minority business in the first place because of its close ties to a large, nonminority firm called Syscom Inc.

Three Isis team members have connections to the firm. Isis' vice president is a human resources executive at Syscom; its corporate secretary is married to a Syscom executive; and its top investor is married to the founder and chief executive officer of Syscom, Theodore Bayer. Syscom, which has a long history of working with the state welfare agency, remains a subcontractor on the technology contract.

All of those facts have raised questions about the woman-owned firm's independence, according to state officials.

In the end, Isis officials backed out of the DHR technology contract when they were told by the prime contractor, ACS State and Local Solutions Inc., that they might not get the full $12 million but would have to compete with other minority businesses.

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