Baltimore’s spending board approved an additional $1 million award to a consulting firm that’s assisting with the city’s goal-setting process despite concerns raised about the cost and transparency of the deal.
The Board of Estimates approved the contract extension Wednesday by a 3 to 1 vote with one abstention, extending the life of the city’s agreement with consulting firm Ernst & Young by six months and doubling the cost of the deal.
Council President Nick Mosby voted against the extension. Comptroller Bill Henry abstained.
To date, the city has spent $750,000 on the contract, first approved as a six-month deal in August 2021 for consulting services on the city’s Transformation Management Office. The little-known office is charged with implementing an accountability system for the goals in Mayor Brandon Scott’s action plan.
Scott released the action plan via an online address in December on the first anniversary of his swearing in. It includes more than 180 goals and has thus far been measured via a data-tracking feature on the city’s website.
According to the board’s agenda, the Transformation Management Office will monitor and analyze the efforts of various city agencies to execute the items outlined in the action plan. Among them is the implementation of a performance management system to review city agencies, a priority outlined by City Administrator Chris Shorter.
Ernst & Young has helped the city’s agencies create action plans for how to achieve each goal in the overall plan, helped with prioritizing various initiatives and assisted with the interagency communication needed to achieve goals involving more than one agency, Ariel Giles, assistant city administrator for performance and technology, told the board.
In March, the Board of Estimates approved a $90,000 extension of the contract. The board’s agenda at the time said the extension was needed to support activation of the Transformation Management Office.
The more than $1 million extension approved Wednesday includes $660,000 to “support additional work performed” and $350,000 for a software system to assist with project management and the performance review process, according to the board’s agenda.
The board initially deferred a decision on the contract extension at a meeting in September, citing concerns about the transparency of the contract.
Giles told the board at that meeting the latest contract extension will pay for the second of three phases in the plan to get the performance management system up and running.
Mosby then questioned whether future appropriations would be needed for the final phase. Giles said yes. The work was divided into six-month increments to ensure the city is getting “deliverables” from the contract, he said.
“I am in favor of innovation, particularly as it relates to technology,” Mosby said at the previous meeting. “One thing I will continue to stress is we just have to be realistic at the beginning.”
“We’re starting out at 600,000 and now we’re over $1.7 million. We do not necessarily know where the end in sight is,” he added.
On Wednesday, Comptroller Bill Henry asked whether the extension would pay for any work already performed. Giles said it would support both work the consultant has done and future work.
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“I’m not comfortable that we went on the right path with our approach to EY, but I also feel I share some measure of blame for that, for not articulating my concerns earlier to members of the administration,” Henry said as he abstained from voting.
Henry said he was uncomfortable voting against a contract for work that has already been performed. “I can’t being myself to vote against this, but I don’t want to send a conflicting message,” he said.
Mayor Brandon Scott, who sits on the board and controls two appointments to the panel, questioned Giles about the need for the “transformational work” Ernst & Young is assisting with.
“When we started in this process. we were trying to track actions through Excel sheets and emails,” Giles said. “Those are not processes and systems. There was a tremendous need to do this type of work.”
Scott voted in favor of the deal, as did Solicitor Jim Shea and Jason Mitchell, director of the Department of Public Works.
The contract discussed Wednesday is not Baltimore’s only deal with Ernst & Young. Early in the pandemic, the city set aside $1 million in CARES Act money to pay for consulting services with the firm to help navigate federal regulations for spending the coronavirus relief funding, The Baltimore Sun reported.
That consulting assistance continued as Baltimore applied for COVID-related reimbursements from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Budget Director Bob Cenname said in February 2021 the firm was hired to process FEMA applications and maximize the likelihood applications would be approved.