Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2014

The Bus Contract Shows Why the Abele Administration Needs Oversight

By Lisa Kaiser
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Looking through the documents presented by the losing bidders for the contract to operate MCTS, it’s easy to see why the Chris Abele administration fought so hard to keep its own documents private. 

Abele’s aides, if you remember, stonewalled on providing the current operator, Milwaukee Transport Services (MTS), the documents it needs to appeal the contract that Abele wants to award to the Texas-based, for-profit MV Transportation.

MTS won its case, and the county had to provide it—and Veolia, another bidder that didn’t win the contract—with thousands of pages of documents.

MTS and Veolia are currently appealing the RFP process in front of a panel made up of Milwaukee County supervisors. Its next meeting will be held next Tuesday. 

According to the rules of the appeal, MTS and Veolia can win their appeal if they can prove that the process by which the county awarded the $164 million annual contract to MV was faulty. The county can then rescore the results, and perhaps award a new winner, or go through the whole process again.

MTS’s and Veolia’s arguments show just how flawed the RFP process was and provides a glimpse into the workings of the Abele administration that the public wouldn’t have seen if MTS had not gone to court to force the administration to turn over its documents.

Some things to think about:

  • MV had the lowest score for the technical portion of the bid—which comprises 80% of the points for the RFP. Veolia got the highest technical score. Yet because MV fudged its numbers for the costs to run the system, it scored the highest for the cost portion of the proposal, 20% of the score. MV therefore won the contract. So the worst company for providing bus service won because it low-balled its costs.
  • MV’s cost proposal doesn't appear to be serious. In fact, it was so laughable that after the RFP panel decided that MV would win the contract, it sent the company a list of 22 questions about its proposal.
Crazily, MV responded to the county’s question about the costs by saying, in effect, that its price proposal wasn’t serious and that it expected to renegotiate the financial portion of the document at a later date:
"If selected, the company respectfully requests to sit down with the county to decide on a final allocation between the three cost components, based on the county’s interpretation of the individual cost elements. Then the final amounts written into the contract would be binding to MV for the contract term."
  •  Only MV was given a “do-over” to correct its deficient proposal.
  • MTS, which has run MCTS for almost 40 years, also argues that the RFP itself was biased against the current operator, and skewed toward selecting a new operator. An example of a biased question includes: “List up to three references of similar transit management assignments.” The evaluators were instructed to award points based on how many references were provided. Well, MTS’s only client is Milwaukee County, so it scored low on this question because it provided only one reference—but two dozen letters of recommendation from local leaders and organizations.
  • There’s no evidence that the county followed up by calling any of the references that bidders provided. And the panel didn’t hear oral presentations from the bidders, either.

And this is the administration that worked with tea party legislators to consolidate power in its own hands and diminish oversight from the county board? I’d hate to think what would have happened if the board just got to rubber stamp Abele’s contract without a proper public vetting.

According to the schedule of the county’s Administrative Determination Review Committee, the county will respond by Jan. 23. Arguments and deliberation are scheduled for Feb. 18.

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